NFL owners Tuesday approved a resolution to continue playing regular-season games in the United Kingdom through the 2016 season. The vote, which came during the NFL Fall Meeting in Houston, authorizes the league to schedule regular-season games in the U.K. in each of the next five years. Where will the NFL's international expansion eventually end up -- multiple games overseas, or a truly international league with a franchise based outside the country?
Someday there will be an NFL team in London, and probably one in Germany. Sooner or later, the British fans will lose interest in "visiting team games" and want their own side to cheer for. One owner told me, he would trade his team for one in London. As for other expansion, I wouldn't be surprised to see a team in Canada and Mexico. On its own, the Internet has driven interest in American football to new levels. Many of the questions I received during my NFL.com chats were from Europeans with a growing passion for our game.
Clearly, the league intends to use the players as missionaries to spread the gospel of the NFL all around the big blue marble … and I, for one, love it. Then again, I don't have to make the long trip. Doesn't the NFL have enough juice to get the Concorde jet back on the assembly line?
What probably is going to happen is that one or two teams will be regular participants with different opponents. The reason this might go down will be so fans overseas will become fans of a particular team or two -- and their players -- instead of trying to focus more on the game itself. It makes sense. By no means do I think there will be an NFL franchise overseas anytime in the near future. I don't think that is the goal right now.
No matter how many times I turn this scenario over in my head, I can't find a feasible solution to the biggest issue with an overseas franchise: Travel. Even in an 18-game season, where two bye weeks could allow for one of them to be designed as recovery after a London trip, it still doesn't satisfy the clear burden of travel placed on the overseas team. And unless the London team has to hop the pond at least eight times per year, they'd also have an unfair advantage because of an overabundance of home games.
Without a clear and promising resolution to this issue (unless the NFL is willing to invest in its very own Concorde aircraft), I still can't fathom a scenario that allows for anything but the annual matchup between two current franchises in a far-away place. I'm not saying the NFL can't eventually figure this puzzle out, but it's going to take some real creativity or real sacrifice.