The NFL has dreamed for years of having one of its franchises in London as a way to help the game blossom even more internationally. While the National Football League will be resuming its overseas schedule for the 2021 season, don’t expect to see a London franchise anytime soon.
Dating back to the 2018 season, Roger Goodell and league executives believed a team in London was viable. When Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan explored buying Wembley Stadium and the Jaguars played multiple games in London, it seemed realistic that it would one day be their full-time home.
While the logistics of a team playing eight home games in London would be difficult, the league believed it would be possible. As it does when two teams play overseas, they would return home and have a bye the following week. That could be the route if a franchise played in Europe. Now, the idea could be off the table for a while.
Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer spoke to Chris Halpin, the league’s chief strategy and growth officer. During that interview, Halpin shed light on NFL games in London, leading to Breer’s belief that the NFL is inching away from moving a franchise there.
In the NFL’s eyes, five key things must be in place for a franchise to move to London. First, a fan base that will offer sustained support and can sell out games consistently. Second, a quality stadium that meets the league’s standards and offers a great fan experience. There must also be support from local government officials and the football logistics must all be in place and approved. Finally, a team owner must want to relocate his franchise.
Right now, the league doesn’t believe it has the logistics squared away and there isn’t a team owner willing to move his franchise. As a result, despite the NFL loving what London offers, relocation isn’t in the immediate future.
The Jaguars have the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and it’s only a matter of weeks until Trevor Lawrence is the new face of the franchise. A generational talent alone is enough to get the local fan base excited and ticket sales will likely soar this season. On top of that, there is additional anticipation in Jacksonville after the hiring of Urban Meyer.
As a result, the Jaguars are likely off the table. They will potentially play one game in London this upcoming season, but the growing fan support at home is plenty of incentive to cut down on traveling overseas.
Outside of the Jaguars, there aren’t any other great options. The Las Vegas Raiders just relocated to their state-of-the-art stadium and it will be opening up to fans in 2021. Meanwhile, 29 other franchises already have great facilities, outstanding fan support or both. But there is one possibility.
The Los Angeles Chargers were once suggested as a potential candidate for relocation to London, but the NFL denied it. They are sharing SoFi Stadium with the Los Angeles Rams, but there is barely enough local support for just one of those teams. Meanwhile, owner Dean Spanos’ sister is pleading with a court to force a team sale.
Spanos wants to hold on to the team, and there are no signs as of now that he wants to relocate it again. But if the NFL eventually gets everything lined up, the Chargers are the only realistic candidate for relocation.