This week saw the highly anticipated (by me anyway) release of the teams who will be playing in the London games next year, there was a tangible excitement wondering who was going to be joining the Dolphins and Saints, and the Jaguars who were the three teams we knew would be coming over. Obviously, along with everyone who follows NFL on this side of the pond I was hoping for a marquee name; the Seahawks, the Patriots again, the Packers again, hell, even the Panthers or Steelers. But the biggest name we ended up with, to a lot of peoples ire, was the Arizona Cardinals. Which caused well, not uproar, but a lot of disgruntled comments on social media, on the quality of the teams we seem to “get lumped with” in these matches. I’m not going to lie, the line up isn’t exactly inspiring… Wembley hosts the first two matches, in weeks 3 and 4 the Ravens @ Jags, and the Saints @ Dolphins, while Twickenham gets the pleasure of Vikings @ Browns and Cardinals @ Rams in weeks 7 and 8. It’s yet to be confirmed which week either match will take place, but at least we have a choice of two on each of these. I personally am going to be trying to get tickets for the Cardinals match, I would love to see Larry Fitz before he retires, and David Johnson, to me, is the best RB in the league (although I have to admit Lev Bell is pretty damn good too, but he’s a Steeler… so….) That dates for these games look like they won’t be confirmed for a while yet, mid-January seems to be the earliest we’ll know, however it could be up to April when the domestic schedule is announced, basically there’s a hell of a lot of things to take into consideration in sorting out when a team plays, bye weeks, TV coverage etc…
Now… As I have said, it’s not a Stellar cast, at the time of this posting, (16/12), the Ravens, Dolphins and Vikings are the only teams with an over 0.500 record. The Browns are looking like they may well be the second team ever to go 0-16, the Rams have been awful this year, the Jags have performed way way way below expectation, the Cardinals have been hugely disappointing too, so why should we be excited by these games?
Well, first of all, it’s the first time there’s by 4 games over here, that’s half a regular home season, if (more like when) these sell out, it will further prove that the fanbase in the UK (and indeed Europe) are willing to go to even dud games, and give more encouragement for the NFL to possibly set a franchise over here in 2020 when the CBA is renegotiated (whether or not I think that’s the right move is a completely different post which will more than likely come during the off-season) Given that the international series started in 2007 with 1 game, (the Giants beat the Dolphins and then went on to win the Superbowl) it’s amazing that from that beginning, the game over here has grown year on year, and the games have never failed to sell out, as of next year, we will of had 26 of the 32 teams visit these shores to play a game.
My second reason for looking forward to these games is that you don’t know year on year how a team will perform, how many of us expected the Lions to be atop the NFC North with 3 games left, or the Raiders to do so well (except me who had them to win their division) or the Cowboys to return to this kind of form. The whole draft process and the wage caps are in place to stop any particular team from getting too far ahead, or behind, which makes the game a much more level playing field. The AFC South for example, we all know it’s a bum division and whoever wins will more than likely lose in the first round of the playoffs, but having three teams this previous week on 6-6 goes to show how competitive the league is as a whole. The Jaguars, on paper, have a fantastic roster, loaded on defence, they probably need a better RB, and to either fix Bortles mechanics over the summer or get a decent QB from free agency, but otherwise they should really be in contention for the AFC South every year, and with Gus Bradley inevitably going at the end of this season, who knows what could happen with a coach who wins more than 1 in 4 games. Jeff Fisher this week was fired as Rams coach, they’ll be looking for a big name to replace him, and more than likely a much more offensively minded coach, with that they’re bound to get Gurley involved again, and Goff with half a season of beatings under his belt will surely come on. The Cardinals have bucket loads of talent all over the park, David Johnson is a personal favourite of mine, he’s not far off a record breaking year for them this year, only Marshall Faulk has done what he’s done this year, and he can surpass that. Tyrion Matthieu and Patick Peterson are pro bowl defensive players, and Larry Fitzgerald is as good as ever at WR, and next season will likely be his last (if he even makes it that far) Hell, even the Browns could be interesting, they’ll be getting a top 2 draft pick this year, (unless they trade out again which wouldn’t shock me) they’ve got a good coach, and a lot of young players who will need time to settle. The Vikings will hopefully role out Adrian Peterson, one of the best RBs in history, and should have their O-Line back which will improve their offence with probably Sam Bradford back (Everything I heard about Teddy Bridgewater was that he could of lost his leg if it wasn’t for the actions of the staff, so I personally don’t think he’ll return for next season) The Ravens have Steve Smith, who is a character. The Saints will bring Drew Brees over, one of the leading passers in NFL history, with the 3 or 4 exciting targets he links up with i’d like to think the game vs the Dolphins will be a high scoring affiar, they bring Jay Ajayi, or Londonborn as he seems to be known to every UK based podcast, he joined a list of 4 players who have rushed for 200yds in consecutive matches earlier this year. My point is, there’s a lot of positives around these teams if you don’t immediately jump on the fact that none of them are going to win the Superbowl this year. One year they had over the Vikings and Steelers which on paper sounded amazing, they came here with a combined record of 0-6, and the games finished 34-27, so you just never know.
Thirdly… It’s really not easy to get teams over. NFL UK Managing Director Alistair Kirkwood had a very busy Tuesday explaining to various podcasts the intricacies of getting teams to give up a home game to come over here, TV coverage for example restricts to a certain extent which teams can come over, picking 4 Fox games just won’t happen. The dates of the matches as well is actually quite restrictive with Wembley hosting Spurs’ home matches next season, music gigs, Twickenham having the England rugby matches etc… The fact is, that 4 teams are having to give up a home game, there’s restrictions to this too, “the rules are, that you can look at their schedule, they can protect at least one game, and they can also choose to protect a division rival, also the away team can also refuse to go for whatever reason, so people who choose to say why can’t you get x game, the stating point is, if they’re a team where their stadium lease doesn’t allow them to go because of a city agreement, or for whatever other reason then they’re not coming as a home team, so your pool of potential home teams is relatively limited. There’s times where we get fortunate with teams like Atlanta or KC, or Minnesota where they gave up a home game, the lease didn’t allow them to, but they were moving to a new stadium so there are time you can be opportunistic. So if you go to Cleveland’s match ups, you have bal,cin,pit,jax,ten,gb,min,bottom of the afc east (now obviously the jets, but could of been Miami), which rules out Miami” (who are already coming over this year…jax are also out as they’re already coming over) “you then go to Ten, GB, Min, so you say lets go for Green Bay, if Cleveland or Green Bay don’t want to lose that match, then you move to the next team” … So basically the first port of call is finding a home team willing to give up a game, and then look at their schedule, that’s then restricted further, and even more so when you try and get a good opposition over. “I have sympathy that obviously people want to see the big names teams, but it’s swings and roundabouts, what I hope is that people stay with the program if you like, because in 2018 there’s a couple of home teams that we’re looking at that have really strong schedules, so things will hopefully turn round again.” He also intimated that they have tried to get over Green Bay, but unfortunately for us over here, there seems to be a worry that the home team will suffer from a loss of home-field advantage as there will probably be more GB fans than their own, and GB won’t be giving up a home game as they’re a fan owned team, and who wants to lose one of their 8 home games. – Kirkwood did mention that he’s pretty sure of one of the matches for 2018 and it’s a “kickass game”.
I feel that we need to look at it from an American point of view as well, would Manchester United fans be willing to give up one of their 19 home games in the premier league? They’ve paid for a season ticket with the assumption they’ll get 19 games for their money, if they lost one, at least they’d still have another 18 games to go to, with the NFL there’s a guaranteed 8 home games a season, losing one of those is a big loss to the games you, as a fan, can view. The teams themselves obviously get compensated for coming over, but at the same time, if they’re giving up a perceived home-field advantage, or a game where they know 99% that they’ll sell out their ground, then why should they travel 8 hours over here to play a game. At the end of the day, we’ve done very well to get 4 games a season over here, which it seems likely will increase next season as well with Spurs’ stadium booked for at least 2 games, as well as Wembley being marked for the same.
Another issue raised this year was the potential of different kick off times for the matches, the 1300 GMT starts seem to suit us over here, while in the states, for a West Coast team, that’s 630. There seems to be some concern for the market being over-saturated, as a reason that the viewing figures are down, and there’s a rumour that they will be set back to match up with the 1300 US kick offs which would mean 1800 kick offs for us going to the matches. But Mr. Kirkwood intimated that discussions are on-going and that “speculation is premature” on the kick off times changing, he did seem to suggest that the Cards v Rams game at the very least would probably be a later kick off as they’re both west coast teams.
If we, as a nation pass the “test” this year with teams which aren’t necessarily the top teams in the league and still sell out, which I believe we will, (I for one will be on as soon as tickets are available to try and get myself a ticket for the Cardinals match) then it will go to further reinforce the increase in interest in the game in this county and can only lead to bigger and better things for the future of NFL in the UK.
A lot of the information posted above was gained from the @Talksport2 NFL Show hosted by @NatCoombs, the direct quotes from Alistair Kirkwood were from this weeks Talksport 2 NFL Show, download that podcast and give it a listen if you want even more information on the matter, they also had him on a few weeks back which was very insightful as well. Also the @Gridiron podcast from @OllyHunter and @WillGavin, both shows have, and are a great source of information for anyone in the UK wanting to keep up on the news, and I’m glad I found a British perspective on these issues. – I would also point you in the direction of the @GridironGentlemen (gridirongentlemen.com) who provide more detailed insight in their regular 1:30+ hour long podcasts pretty much every american podcast that I listen to, and seem like thoroughly lovely blokes.
Incidentally if you want a good read about the NFL, something a little more indepth than “The quarterback is the man who throws the ball to the others” then subscribe to @Gridiron magazine, it’s a great read, and very reasonable, especially if you choose the digital only options. http://www.gridiron-magazine.com/
I hope this was a decent read and provided information that some of you may not of realised before reading it.
Adam Walford – @TouchdownTips