The London Chargers? Please, Someone Stop the NFL
In the past week, speculation regarding the relocation of the Los Angeles Chargers to London has been circulating. It’s no secret that the NFL is seeking to expand its brand outside of US borders considering the popularity of its current international series and the creation of NFL Europe in the 90s. Although the current news is merely speculation, a permanent team being placed in London is pure insanity. This post hypothetically assumes that the Chargers were to move to London.
Regardless of the logistics involved in planning an NFL season with eight games in another country, I do not see this potential move benefiting the NFL’s bottom line. Compelling competition brings in fans; you can only watch the Miami Dolphins so much before you begin to lose hope and interest. Just imagine a London-based team opening up a free agency pitch to a player: “so I know you’ll have to move your entire family across the world, and I know you’ll have to sacrifice about 20 hours of your life flying to and from away games, and you won’t be playing in front of your friends, family, or fans, but it’s a great opportunity.” If a rostered player gets hurt and the Chargers need to sign a replacement, it becomes increasingly difficult to engage in swift roster moves that other teams would have the benefit of undertaking when your talent pool is up to 12 hours away and may not even have a passport. Despite the evident opportunities that would be available for the players having an entire country of fans to themselves (much like Kawhi Leonard had in Toronto), I can pretty comfortably assume that players would still prefer to play in Cincinnati than perpetual roundtrip flights to London.
It has been suggested that if this relocation were to occur, the Chargers would either play eight straight games in London and eight straight away games, or blocks of four home and four away games to limit international travel. Additionally, there must surely be an AFC divisional realignment. The Chargers, of the AFC ~West~, would now be farther east than any other team. Obviously, the divisions are only somewhat regionally based, but having them join the AFC East would minimize the travel time of the Chargers and relieve the AFC West of that added travel burden. Regardless of the final scheduling decision, the London Chargers would undoubtedly become the worst team in the NFL year after year. One might think that this would mean the first overall pick each year goes to the Chargers, so at least they would have a revolving door of top talent, but I see a continual Eli Manning situation. Ironically, when Eli Manning was drafted, he publicly stated that he would not play for the (San Diego) Chargers. The Chargers drafted Manning with the #1 overall pick anyway, and Manning forced his way out of San Diego in a deal with the New York Giants. I would not be surprised if the top players refused to play for London à la Eli Manning.
I am still unsure of how the consistent—for lack of a better term—“suckiness” of the Chargers would affect the attendance of games given that the current London international games are wildly successful, and fans are not too bothered about the actual teams involved. The international NFL games are a spectacle, an opportunity to see what US sports have to offer. Fans of all NFL teams flock to the scarce opportunity to watch the NFL, evidenced by the array of different jerseys worn by attendants, not just of the teams involved. In this regard, fans may just be excited to see an NFL game and come out in full support of their new hometown team, but inevitably this excitement will wane as the Chargers finish out the year 0-16 every year and the novelty wears off.
An NFL team is composed of more than just players. How would this move affect the front office staff, the doctors, the coaching staff? Would you need a separate staff for games in the US vs. games in the UK? There are so many moving parts to a franchise, and every member of the franchise has a family and a life. I could only assume that the staff would come back home to the US in the offseason, but during the season, where will they live? Will the Chargers be forced to provide housing? Will the Chargers have a facility in both London and the US, and where would that US facility be located? Will the NFL subsidize these costs? There are so many unknowns in this situation that it is wild that this was ever being considered. The financial motives are evident, yet there exists an obvious middle ground between trying to expand the brand of the NFL and forcing players to relocate their lives across the world.
I have two alternatives for the NFL’s hopes to expand into Europe. First, if the NFL is so desperate to expand to Europe, bring back NFL Europe. The European continent offers shorter travel time to games, more opportunities to expand to other countries, and opportunities to scout other countries for talent. This is risky as it has already failed, so another alternative is to simply expand the current international series. The NFL hopes to hold eight games in London through the London Chargers, so why not host eight games in London with the existing teams and locations and leave the Chargers in the US. This may even serve as a test to see if a London-based team is viable. Fans attend the current London games out of the aforementioned novelty of American sports, but after seven games, will fans still have an interest in the NFL? If not, then that is evidence that the London Chargers are an even worse idea than ever imagined, which is hard to do given it is already a horrible idea.