The NFL has held discussions with the American owners of Premier League giants Arsenal and Manchester United, as well as London club Fulham, about plans to set up a London franchise, executives have told City A.M.
As owners of both NFL teams and English football clubs, Arsenal’s Stan Kroenke and Manchester United’s Joel Glazer are said to be keen on the long-mooted prospect of establishing a gridiron team the capital.
NFL executive vice president of international Mark Waller said they spoke to Arsenal about staging fixtures at Emirates Stadium before deciding to host games at rivals Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium and Twickenham.
“We certainly talked with Stan when we were looking at London to see if there was any way we could do anything with the Emirates Stadium,” Waller said ahead of Super Bowl 50, which takes place on Sunday.
“Unfortunately, there wasn’t. It’s just built the way it’s built and it wasn’t possible to retrofit it.”
He added: “Joel Glazer is a member of the international committee of owners, so we meet with him three or four times a year and go through our plans.
“And Shahid [Khan, Fulham owner] we speak to a lot. He’s committed a Jacksonville Jaguars game a year to the UK market, which is obviously a huge commitment from him, so we have a big working relationship, particularly here in the UK.”
At least one NFL game a year has been held in London since 2007, boosting the world’s richest sports league’s fans in Britain from 2 to 3.5m, according to Waller, who cited the league’s own metrics of general public awareness of the sport.
Superbowl 50, the NFL’s showpiece event which this year features the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers, will be broadcast on both the BBC and Sky Sports, is expected to be the most-watched ever.
Yet despite the NFL’s growing popularity in the UK and its attempts to go toe-to-toe with the Premier League for a global audience, Waller says the two competitions are happy to take a complimentary, shared learning approach to one another.
“The experiences are complimentary, they’re not competitive,” he said. “We deliver a very different fan experience and a very different game and so we’ve always felt that the relationship was healthy and productive.
“We’ve certainly compared notes and we definitely talk around scheduling and understanding each other’s plans for sure.”
Waller is reluctant to put a specific date on when talk of a London franchise will move into action, arguing there are still plenty of logistical questions that need answering.
Hosting games beyond Wembley, first at Twickenham this year and then at Tottenham’s new 61,000 capacity stadium from 2018 is the league’s next step.
“As long as you share a stadium and it’s somebody else's, you’re always going to be a victim of their schedule and we never want to be in a position where we can’t play games because we don’t have availability,” said Waller.
“So part of the Twickenham move is very much a desire and a need to have options.
“Ultimately, the key consideration is, can any team that was based here be competitive and realistically compete for the Super Bowl.
“The last thing we want is to have a team for whom the travel and logistics make it impossible for them to be competitive. That’s our biggest worry.”