NFL Ponders a British Invasion

Mastrole Passing Academy founder Kenny Mastrole was the starting signal called for the NFL Europe's Amsterdam Admirals in 2002

Roger Goodell Considering an Expansion Franchise in London

London, England (Sunday, October 25, 2009) – For the third consecutive year, the National Football League played a sold out regular season contest at Wembley Stadium in London today as the New England Patriots knocked around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by a tally of 35-7. And if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell gets his way, the annual trip will soon become an eight-game stop for the league.

“We’re thinking about it,” Goodell recently commented when asked about the prospect of a British expansion franchise into the NFL. “As long as we continue to get a positive reaction, the possibility is that we could bring the sport here on a full-time basis. To own the first international franchise would be a pretty cool thing.”

Playing American football in Europe is far from being a new concept, with the first time the NFL anchored in England being a 1983 preseason match-up that saw the Minnesota Vikings defeat the St. Louis Cardinals, 28-10. Originally founded as the World League of Football, the NFL Europe played for 15 seasons as a developmental league to the NFL and was widely popular. The league, which played in the spring, came to a halt following the 2007 season when five of the six teams were based in Germany and the NFL was losing an estimated $35M annually.

One player who knows first-hand how football is perceived in Europe is Mastrole Passing Academy founder and former Amsterdam Admirals quarterback Kenny Mastrole.

“Playing in the NFL Europe was similar to playing in an All-Star Game because you had all these talented players, but you had to play with a simplified playbook at the same time,” he reflected. “There are 32 different systems being run in the NFL, and it just wouldn’t make any sense to have players learn a complex game plan while they played in Europe.”

As far as the success of an expansion franchise in London, Mastrole doesn’t necessarily think that the British are ready to adopt a full-time NFL team.

“Europe is predominately soccer and rugby, and I’m not so sure how an NFL team in London would do,” he remarked. “The potential exists to grow football there, but people would have to start playing at the youth level for it to truly work. Something else that cannot be overlooked is the fact that there are so many behind-the-scenes costs that it would take to run a franchise overseas.”

When the NFL Europe closed up shop in 2007, Mastrole couldn’t help but admit the news came to him as a disappointment.

“I was disappointed because it created a great opportunity for those players that never really got a chance to play and fell through the cracks,” he said. “I’m all about players having another avenue to play football, and I feel that there is a lot more Kurt Warners out there.”

Warner is the most notable of the NFL Europe alumni, having won a pair of MVP awards and making three Super Bowl appearances since he got called up to the NFL.

Without question, football is growing into a truly global sport, and making an annual stop overseas is a brilliant move in terms of the marketing of the NFL. Merchandise that was formerly contained within our own borders now sells fairly well in pockets of the European continent, and that number has grown significantly over the past three years that the NFL has sold out Wembley Stadium.

While there is no doubt that football is king in the United States, let’s not forget that it is referred to as American football outside of our national borders, and that really answers the question of how the game is perceived internationally. Before the NFL goes too crazy with their current European experiment, they have to remember that the global game outside of our country is and always will be soccer. Except outside of our country, it’s called football. Ironic, huh?

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