Moneyball hits the UK

Dominic Lee looks at the growing influence of the NFL in the UK and the financial motivations behind this.

Dominic Lee
5th November 2018
Image- UsAFE

When people say money isn’t everything they’re right, money can’t buy happiness in life. However, money can certainly buy success in the sporting arena. Though the NFL has a salary cap which largely restricts richer teams from dominating in the sport, the NFL arguably is the most financially motivated of all major sports leagues off the field. With the NFL returning to London for the 11th straight year, the game has undoubtedly grown in popularity on British shores and with the league’s goal of establishing a London franchise by 2021 becoming closer to reality. 

Of course, the London games are not without their financial motivation, while the sport has grown in popularity this will have certainly translated into more dollars for the league who made over $13 billion in 2017. With 5 international games played in 2017 and 4 in 2018 it is plain to see how money rules off the field, which is even more evident when we consider relocation, which has become a major feature of American sport and the NFL in particular in the last couple of years. In total 10 NFL franchises have relocated at some point during their history. However, the recent relocations of the St Louis Rams and San Diego Chargers to Los Angeles and the Oakland Raiders committing their long-term future to Vegas were largely motivated by financial gains. While it had been a long time coming for LA to get an NFL team, with both the Rams and the Raiders leaving America’s second largest city in 1994, there are now 3 cities who will have lost their team.

Whether money is ruining the league is an altogether different question, and while all 3 cities in question will miss their team they all ranked low in attendance. In their last season in St Louis the Rams ranked dead last in attendance, the Chargers ranked second to last in their final season in San Diego and the Raiders have the second worst attendance so far this season. Ultimately, it can be argued that money in the NFL works far differently than in European football, where the richest clubs take home the silverware at the end of the season. In the NFL the small market underdogs frequently make the Super Bowl, with the Carolina Panthers recently getting to the big show in 2016.

Nonetheless, while profit is a huge driver for the international series, with the New Tottenham Stadium- which may never be built at this rate- being purpose built to host NFL games, the international series has in my personal opinion been a great addition to UK sport with more and more people each year signing up for tickets. The effect has also been felt in Mexico which hosted 1 game in 2017 and will host the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Rams, 2 Super Bowl contenders, in November. Meanwhile, the last of the Wembley Games for this year pitted the Philadelphia Eagles, reigning Super Bowl champions, against the Jacksonville Jaguars in a contest that is sure not to be the last we see of the NFL in the UK.

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