Nick Westby: Gridiron visitors welcome but not as permanent London residents

Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway points to the trophy following the Broncos' 34-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at Super Bowl XXXIII Sunday, Jan. 31, 1999 in Miami. (AP Photo/John Gaps III)
Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway points to the trophy following the Broncos' 34-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at Super Bowl XXXIII Sunday, Jan. 31, 1999 in Miami. (AP Photo/John Gaps III)
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Last Sunday night at Wembley Stadium, the latest edition of the NFL’s International Series touched down in London.

The Miami Dolphins and the Oakland Raiders, two storied franchises fallen on hard times, played out a largely one-sided affair won comfortably by the ‘visiting’ Dolphins.

It was the first of three NFL regular season games to be played at Wembley in the space of seven weeks.

Two were played last year, such was the success of the one-a-season format employed every year since the first International Series game in 2007.

The supply represents the demand. The first eight games were near sell-outs, and last week’s first game of the year attracted a crowd of 83,436, at an average price of £100.

The two games that follow, Detroit Lions ‘at’ Atlanta Falcons on October 26 and Dallas Cowboys ‘at’ Jacksonville Jaguars on November 9 are also expected to be played in front of crowds in excess of 80,000. Do your sums, and that’s nearly 250,000 fans and £25m in gate receipts.

With figures like that, it is little wonder that talk of a potential NFL franchise here in London gets louder with each passing hop across the pond.

Every time one of the 32 teams makes the trip to London, takes in the sights of Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, the voices in favour of a permanent team here get louder.

Robert Kraft, the owner who has brought his New England Patriots over twice, is a big advocate, as was Ryan Tannehill, the Miami quarterback who may in the future look back on his visit to London as the game that saved his job, such was the performance he produced when he needed it most.

Jerry Jones, who owns the Dallas Cowboys, believes a London franchise somewhere down the line is “going to get done.”

To hear those voicing their support it is almost a case of when and not if.

For me, I think an NFL franchise in London would ruin a good thing. It smacks of greed at the expense of common sense.

I have been a fan of American football since the days of Gary Imlach presenting, and Troy Aichman and John Elway, pictured, entertaining. I do not have a team, my only allegiances lie with the sport itself and its leading names, like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

At Wembley in 2012, Brady produced a quarterback masterclass as his Patriots dismantled the St Louis Rams. It was an awful game, as frankly many of the International Series games have been, but witnessing a future Hall of Famer doing what he does best was the real thrill.

At the end of this month, I will be back at Wembley for the Lions-Falcons game when, hopefully, two high-octane offences will go toe-to-toe.

But as much as I love the sport, it is the only one of the three I will go to this year.

If there are five in the future, as is being mooted as the next step, I will still only go to one. And if a franchise does eventually land here in London, say in 2020, and there are eight games to attend, my limit will still be the sole visit.

The price of tickets, of merchandise, of refreshments, of travel, means I can not make it a regular thing.

It is a view no doubt shared by many fans in the north, and many NFL fans from across Europe who travel to England to get a glimpse of the sport they love closer than it has ever been. One is enough for me thank you very much.

That is where I fear the people who are pushing a franchise on this side of the pond are getting ahead of themselves.

Yes, ticket sales are impressive, but that is because it remains a novel experience.

Furthermore, if a franchise comes over from America it is going to be a team that is struggling in its own city. Jacksonville, who are in the middle of a four-year deal to play ‘home’ games at Wembley, would be the likely candidate. They are one of two teams yet to win a game this season and are about as fashionable as Stoke City. I would not support them and thousands of other fans of the Dolphins, Cowboys etcetera, would not switch allegiances either.

Over in the States, there are as many who reject the notion of a London franchise than support it.

As well as the personal pride of it being ‘America’s Game’ there are also logistical issues to consider. Teams play eight home and eight road games. Expecting a London team to cross the Atlantic to play games on the east and west coast of the United States eight times in four months is a massive commitment.

Blocks of two or three games would be more feasible, but then you are taking teams of 53 players with a massive support staff on the road for long periods.

There are also tax issues for American players coming over to play in this country to consider.

London could not support a team in the World League two decades ago, but the United Kingdom has shown it can support the NFL as an occasional visitor.

Let’s keep it that way.