Of all the aspects about the new Spurs stadium scheme that interest me most, it is the NFL connection. I’ve written extensively about it: just why on earth are Spurs, a club with no knowledge or experience of American football, going to considerable effort and expense to install NFL facilities in the new stadium?
Since publishing my last piece, there has been a steady stream of news underlining the effort the NFL is making towards international expansion. Just this week, it was reported that the NFL is seeking to take games to Germany and China in the coming years. At the annual meeting of NFL owners and powers-that-be, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was asked “what’s next” for the league, and said it would be a London franchise, or one in Mexico City. This is important: ultimately, the NFL is run for its owners, and Jerry Jones will be one of the people who decide when a London team happens.
On the Spurs stadium itself as an NFL venue, there hasn’t been much news of late. The stadium is still a large hole in the ground, and until it is completed we are unlikely to hear much. But I’m curious to find out more, and so decided to seek out some expert opinion.
I got in touch with Neil and sent him some questions about Spurs and the NFL. And being a quality bloke, he came straight back to me with answers.
First some links: To see the stadium scheme, click here. To subscribe to the Inside the Huddle podcast, click here. My latest stadium news piece is here, and you can hear me talk about Spurs and the NFL in glorious detail on the Football and Football podcast here.
What are you views on the new stadium Spurs are building, and how does it compare with other new NFL facilities? Does it “look” like an NFL stadium to you?
The new stadium absolutely looks like a first-class NFL facility and I think its size and design will be very attractive to the NFL, as well as the fact that Spurs are committing to giving the NFL their very own field. That shows a real commitment and desire for Tottenham Hotspur to be involved with the NFL in the long term and that is exciting.
Spurs and the NFL signed a 10-year, two-game per year arrangement. Do you think this is likely to be the extent of the hosting arrangement, or do you feel that, ultimately, the Spurs stadium is viewed as the home of an NFL franchise in London?
This is only my opinion as a reporter covering the NFL, but I think this is a partnership that is going to grow considerably over the years. As the NFL adds more games to its London schedule in the coming seasons, having multiple stadia will be useful so expect to see contests spread across Tottenham, Wembley and Twickenham.
But if we are fortunate enough to get to the point where we have an NFL franchise in London, I would expect one stadium to be used extensively in order to create a level of comfort for the players and to create some form of homefield advantage.
With Spurs offering an NFL-specific field and a capacity in the region of 60,000, I would say that venue would be the front-runner for an NFL franchise. It is certainly easier to sell out a 60,000-seat stadium eight times per year as opposed to a venue in excess of 82,000 seats.
Do you think, at this point, an NFL franchise in London is a matter of “when” not “if”? And what sort of timeline do you feel we are working on — 2022 is often is batted around. Is that realistic?
I think it is a matter of ‘when’ and the NFL will build towards that in the coming years with four, five and even six games per year being played in London. And I would say that 2022 is a very realistic time frame given the growing fan and government support, as well as outstanding stadia availability.
Momentum for the NFL in the UK continues to grow and I wrote a few years ago that I felt we would have a London franchise before a star player like Aaron Rodgers retired. Rodgers looks good for playing another six or seven years so he could end up making me look very clever on that front!
How would adding a team in London work? It is normally assumed that a team such as the Jaguars will relocate — is this the most likely scenario? Or will the NFL add an expansion team?
I personally think the talent pool would be spread too thin if the NFL added a couple more teams so had initially been leaning towards a re-location of a team like the Jaguars or the Oakland Raiders, who are having some issues in their home market at the moment.
But money talks in the NFL and if adding two more teams adds billions of dollars to the coffers, the league probably wouldn’t shy away from that. In turn, more dollars flooding into the league eventually finds its way into the pockets of the players so I would imagine them being in favour of expansion, especially as it essentially opens up an additional 106 roster spots through two new teams.
In the club’s planning documents, it was stated that Spurs may seek to secure an NFL franchise. The language was intriguing: do you think a clear relationship between a Premier League soccer club and NFL franchise makes sense from a marketing and commercial standpoint?
It would certainly help in terms of promoting the NFL in the UK and in promoting Tottenham Hotspur in the United States but I had not previously heard of such talk and I don’t think such a partnership is one hundred per cent necessary in order to secure a London NFL franchise.
How is the prospect of a London franchise viewed in the US? Is it just an inevitable next step for a league that needs to broaden its global appeal, or some sort of quixotic misadventure that frustrates many fans?
There are certainly some narrow-minded fans and media who want their game of American football to stay strictly ‘American.’ But there are also a growing number of media who recognise that the game is growing internationally and that the future of the sport – which couldn’t be more popular if it tried in the United States – is overseas.
At the end of the day, money talks and if the current NFL owners feel expanding into the UK is best for their business, they are going to do it, regardless of the blowback in the United States.
Let’s talk fan experience: a lot of Spurs fans who hadn’t previously thought about attending an NFL game will be tempted to try it out. How would you compare the experience of watching an NFL game in London, and a Premier League team?
I would say that there is not much in it in terms of noise and atmosphere, which is impressive from an NFL point of view because the league sends different teams into the London market year after year. If London had its own franchise, the passion for that team would build even more over time.
Personally, as a father of three, I think there is a much nicer family atmosphere at an NFL game and they are great days out. I have worked at every single NFL regular season game in London and have enjoyed seeing how the fans mingle without a hint of trouble or aggression. I have happily worked either in a TV studio or down on the field, knowing my entire family is sitting in the stands in a perfectly safe and enjoyable environment.
I would certainly encourage Premier League fans with families to give the NFL a shot – they won’t be disappointed.
Harry Kane, star striker for Spurs and England, is a huge NFL fan. How useful is that in terms of promoting the NFL to the Spurs fanbase? And on a related note, are there any NFL players you know who are Spurs fans? So far, the only one that we know about is Tim Masthay of the Packers (and he’s a punter, which is hardly too exciting).
Punters are people too, you know! But I take your point. I don’t know of any Spurs fans but I will be asking that question as I make my rounds at NFL training camps this summer. The best I can offer is that the head of public relations for the Green Bay Packers is a big Spurs fan and maybe he can work on Aaron Rodgers!
As for Harry Kane, it’s great that he is a New England Patriots fan and can help promote the NFL to Spurs fans. I’m sure he could become a very valuable marketing tool for the NFL in the coming years.
Finally — do you have a Premier League team? Or is it oblong football for you only at this point?
I grew up marvelling at the likes of Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush and revelling in all the silverware they picked up year after year. It’s been pretty slim pickings since I was a teenager but that will serve me right for being a glory hunter as a kid… YNWA!