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NFL UK chief cautious on London franchise

NFL UK managing director Alistair Kirkwood has cooled talk of Britain having its own franchise competing in the American football league in the near future.

London’s Wembley Stadium yesterday (Sunday) hosted the first of three NFL games this year. A sell-out crowd saw the New York Jets beat the Miami Dolphins 27-14 and many believe there is gap in the market for a London-based NFL franchise.

The UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, last week added to the debate. “We’d love to have a team here, based in the UK, playing in the NFL,” he said. “And I think we are taking steps towards that. Each year, more games are played here. And there is the potential to increase that number next year. Hopefully it’s something we could achieve in the next few years, maybe four or five years.”

However, speaking to The Observer newspaper ahead of Sunday’s game, Kirkwood reined in expectations. “We are in a good place but as we become bigger and more ambitious we probably also need to be more cautious and thoughtful too,” he said.

“Last autumn the top 25 most-watched programmes in the United States were all NFL games and that’s unparalleled. So when you are talking about doing something that’s potentially seismically different, you have to make sure it will not only work in the UK but be aware of its impact in the US too. It’s an absolute big leap and none of us can accurately predict the pacing and the sequencing.”

Further to yesterday’s game, Wembley will also host the Jacksonville Jaguars v the Buffalo Bills on October 25 and the Kansas City Chiefs v the Detroit Lions on November 1.

Nearly 40,000 fans have purchased three-game season tickets for the 2015 International Series matches, and Kirkwood has been encouraged by the interest shown. All three of this year’s games have early-afternoon kick-off times, something he feels will appeal to the global audience.

“The early kick-offs make it a national game in the States, so the visibility of London and the UK is higher,” he added. “It also opens up other markets, because it is more timezone-friendly in Asia than other games that kick off at normal times.”

Kirkwood also confirmed that there will be at least three NFL games played at Wembley next year.