High-level support for an NFL franchise in London continues to grow as New York Jets owner Woody Johnson has insisted the British capital could get a team before Los Angeles.
Mr Johnson’s comments come hot on the heels of recent pro-London comments from NFL owners such as Robert Kraft (New England Patriots), Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys), Arthur Blank (Atlanta Falcons) and Dr John York (San Francisco 49ers).
In an exclusive interview with BritViewNFL.com, Mr Johnson said:
“London and Los Angeles are obviously two important places where we have to be. We’ve been looking at Los Angeles for many years now and it’s a question of whether we can find the right stadium site and whether we can find a place for an NFL team in Los Angeles.
“With regard to London, it’s just a case of finding out if these (growth) trend lines continue – if they do, London may be first.”
Mr Johnson stressed that continued growth and fan support could result in a franchise in London “sooner rather than later.”
Here is a full of transcript of our conversation as it relates to the UK and a potential London franchise…
Neil Reynolds: When we look at international growth and specifically in London, is that an example of the NFL not resting on its laurels and just concentrating on the domestic game? Is that one of the reasons behind these international efforts?
Woody Johnson: Absolutely. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has stated on numerous occasions that growing the game and expanding the game is a priority. You can’t sit on your laurels, as you said. London has always been a good market for American football, starting with NFL Europe and with the regular season games we have played over the last seven years.
The British people are getting very knowledgeable about the game and their passion is growing each year – you can see that just by the numbers. And the kids are playing the game – there has been something like a 16 per cent growth in youth participation in England.
We’ve seen NFL owners be very positive about the international experience. Are you one of those owners who is firmly behind the London plan?
I am firmly behind it. We don’t have all of the evidence in – it’s going to take a few years to see whether the popularity keeps growing. I think it will and I wouldn’t be surprised if we have a team over there in the near future.
But I think we still need to figure out whether London can support a team. From every indication, it looks like it can, from sponsorship to the fact that games are sold out in a couple of days. Those are all indications that London could support a team.
As that further testing needs to be carried out, is there no official timetable? Secondly, do you feel momentum is gathering and if there were a timetable it could be brought forward?
Yes. All the information we have to date is very encouraging – there are some operational issues that the NFL is looking at. If those trend lines continue and the growth continues on television and in sponsorship, I think it’s sooner rather than later.
So much has been said about how Los Angeles is next in terms of an NFL franchise. Is London now in that conversation, in your mind?
I think every day it’s getting to be more and more a part of that conversation. London and Los Angeles are obviously two important places where we have to be. We’ve been looking at Los Angeles for many years now and it’s a question of whether we can find the right stadium site and whether we can find a place for an NFL team in Los Angeles.
With regard to London, it’s just a case of finding out if these (growth) trend lines continue – if they do, London may be first.
So it doesn’t have to be Los Angeles before London?
I don’t think so. Each market has a different decision tree and I don’t know which one would be first.
It would be an historic move if the NFL put a team in London but this league is not afraid to make historic moves. There was a time when there was no NFL team west of the Mississippi and there was no Thursday Night Football. Would a London franchise be a recognition of a league that is always looking forward to that next challenge and next achievement?
I think you have to. To keep growing the game and exposing different populations to the game, you have to take a look at opportunities as they come up. You have to be careful and be diligent and I think the Commissioner is being that and the NFL owners are, but you have to look for growth and both Los Angeles and London would be two huge growth areas if we could get them built and get them done.
Do you think logistics are a concern or is that something for down the road once you know the fan base is in place to sustain a franchise?
I think you can do things simultaneously with that regard and I know the NFL is looking at the logistics of how you could set up a London team. Also, we’re looking at the same thing in the US and how a team in Los Angeles would inter-act with the other clubs in California in terms of scheduling.
Do you think the NFL will eventually reach a saturation point in the United States? Is that another reason for the look towards international growth?
I’m not sure that argument has come up. We do look at saturation when we make decisions about things like Thursday Night Football and about adding games on a Saturday when it comes to the playoffs. We are paying attention to that, for sure.
Finally, would you be interested in the New York Jets playing a game in London?
Absolutely. As a visiting team, I would really, really like to do it and we’ve expressed that to the league. I wouldn’t be surprised if we would be over in London shortly.
Categories: A London franchise