London mayor Sadiq Khan has Super Bowl aspirations. “My ultimate dream is to get a Super Bowl here in London–wouldn’t that be great?” he said in an interview with ESPN last week. Khan, who last year became the first Muslim mayor of a major Western city, also expressed ambitions for a permanent NFL franchise based in London as part of his dream to, in his words, cement London’s “capital of world sport” status.
To clarify: First the city stole a precious home game from a few NFL teams on a yearly basis. Then it laid out plans to lure its own franchise. Now London wants to host a Super Bowl, too? Yes, this is all true. But for anyone angered that this will dilute America’s number one pastime, don’t be. With respect to the first overseas Super Bowl, in particular, the NFL has many reasons to happily embrace the idea.
London is absolutely qualified to host a huge event like the Super Bowl. For starters, it’s hosted three summer Olympic games, the most recent of which occurred in 2012, and other international sports-spectacles like the Champions League Final. All of these events took place without any hiccups. Sufficed it to say, one of the world’s largest cities with one of the best public transportation systems is fit to handle a Super Bowl; and this is especially true when considering the recent snafus that have marred the fan experience in recent games (e.g. the transit crisis in New York for Super Bowl XLVIII; the ice storms before Super Bowl XLV.
London is also a far more attractive option than other recent locations. I don’t intend for this to come across as derogatory, but cities like Indianapolis, Detroit, and Jacksonville have hosted Super Bowls since 2005. All are one-tenth the size, scale, and importance of London. Even solid host cities like Houston from this past year and some of the upcoming destinations like Minneapolis and Atlanta, while boasting impressive stadiums, aren’t as notable, particularly on an international-level, as London.
Plus, the city has already embraced the NFL, too. As Alby noted back in September, attendance at each of the NFL’s International Series games has been exceptional. This may be attributed to the relatively high number of Americans who frequently visit or live in London; but there is still little doubt that Londoners themselves have an awareness of the “other” football. For instance, I’ve had two business professors reference NFL franchises on two different occasions like it was commonplace. At my local gym, I’ve seen British students with Odell Beckham and Ezekiel Elliott jerseys. ESPN’s UK website also features the NFL prominently, more so than any of the other major American sports. While the NFL can never expect to surpass soccer in terms of popularity in Britain, there’s clearly more than enough of an awareness of football to ensure that the Super Bowl would be an enormous event in the city.
Just as important, though, is that a London Super Bowl would undoubtedly increase the NFL’s international presence beyond. More international players are already joining the league, such as Miami’s Jay Ajayi (England) and Cincinnati’s Margus Hunt (Estonia) while the NFL expands its international regular season circuit to cities like Mexico City. Yet there is even more room to grow, particularly on mainland Europe. You can call the league greedy, but there isn’t one major Fortune 500 company that isn’t interested in making more money. Plus, it wouldn’t hurt the NFL to develop an even wider talent pool as youth football numbers decline in America.
However, there are a few issues. First, as mentioned earlier, many Americans might be strongly against moving the country’s greatest sporting event to another continent–if only for one year. That’s understandable. But London closely resembles other American cities, so fans and media should have an enjoyable experience, particularly when compared to other less-than-stellar locations such as Indianapolis, Detroit, and even icy Dallas.
Plus, it’s not like this would be a usual occurrence. If a non-American city hosted a Super Bowl once every, say, fifteen years, would that really make the Super Bowl any less American? I think not. The Super Bowl is an international event. Therefore, it deserves to play in city like London that is world-class and receptive to the NFL.
But here is where it gets complicated. Everyone knows there is a bye week in between the Super Bowl. But what if you have a matchup between the Patriots and Seahawks, for instance? An East coast team like New England would have a relatively smooth six-hour flight. A West coast team like Seattle, on the other hand, or even neighboring teams like the Broncos or the Las Vegas Raiders (I like the sound of that already), would have a much lengthier passage. That wouldn’t be entirely fair, even with two weeks to prepare for the game.
Moreover, there’s the time difference. A normal 6:30 kickoff on the East coast would mean an 11:30 start time for a London Super Bowl. That can’t work. Or can it? When asked on the issue, Khan remarked, “When it comes to big sports events like boxing in London, and other events when we try to get an American audience, we often move the time until later into the night to make it work.”
Clearly an 11:30 start in London is still not feasible. But maybe a 9:15 kickoff, which would mean a 4:15 and 1:15 starts on the East and West coasts respectively, solves the problem. That’s not that late of an opening, considering that before moving to ESPN, Monday Night Football used to begin at the same time. It’s also only a 45 minute difference from when Sunday Night Football kicks off, so current players shouldn’t have to make a big adjustment, either. I suppose the biggest ramification could be the effect it has on the American viewing audience. But would people be upset if this particular Super Bowl started two hours earlier? If anything, everyone on the East coast would get home from their Super Bowl parties in time to get a good night sleep for work the next day.
Despite these issues, a Super Bowl in London is not only feasible, but seemingly inevitable. Roger Goodell has said so himself, provided the NFL officially relocates another franchise to play at Tottenham Hotspur’s new venue. And based on how the dust has settled after the NFL’s recent spate of franchise relocations, London looks to be in the on-deck circle.
It will feel unusual for America’s greatest sporting event to take place on foreign soil, but have no fear or bitterness. Simply embrace a London Super Bowl.