NFL's Europe expansion? Maybe in 10 years. Maybe never.

In most countries, 'football' means kicking that round thing around. But it would be fun for the 'Patriots' to show Brits what a former colony can do.

Sang Tan/AP
British fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots play a game of touch football at Richmond Park in London, Saturday. The two teams will play an NFL game at Wembley Park in London on Sunday.

Eighty thousand Brits cheering on the New England Patriots carries enough historical irony to warrant a look-see of the Pats-Bucs matchup at Wembley Stadium in London on Sunday.

Is it another fun NFL public relations ploy -- or a glimpse of the league's transnational future?

Pats owner Robert Kraft, a self-described Anglophile, sees the potential for an NFL team in London or perhaps Berlin in the next 10 years (though getting a team to Los Angeles might be a more immediate priority.)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who first moved a game to London in 2007 and is planning more, says there’s “tremendous interest” in putting a team in London, though he wouldn’t give a time line.

Even former secretary of state Condoleeza Rice has said football one day will be a “game of international proportions.”

Of course, a quick run down of the English papers today shows very little about the football game, save a Page 6-style feature about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders. (Top London Times sports headline on Saturday: “Dalglish rallies Kop behind Benitez.” Oh, okay.)

To function, a London NFL team would have to fill a stadium at least for eight home games -- a market the NFL promises it will continue to test. For all the cultural insights painting American football as the violent, war-like sport of a world hegemon, it’s really not that far off from rugby, which, one could easily argue, is even more violent.

The real rub that many Europeans have with the NFL is that don’t like the fact that the Americans stole the word “football” for a sport that’s mostly played with the hands. (For the American view, please recall the "Family Guy" episode where Peter joins the Patriots to play at Wembley against the London Sillynannies, only to lead the stadium in an original song and dance number.)

Transnational sports league migrations are usually risky and fraught with defeat.

Major League Soccer’s relative success is in large part due to its appeal to Hispanic immigrants in the US. And Europe’s experiments with American football, including NFL Europa, have all so far failed. The London Monarchs in the NFL Europa league started out getting 40,000 fans a game, but that dwindled to about 6,000 before the team was moved to Germany to become the Berlin Thunder. NFL Europa ceased operations on June 29, 2007.

(Check here though for some great Euro football helmets.)

Patriots QB Tom Brady, for one, doesn’t embrace European expansion, joining bleary-eyed teammates at a cricket field to practice on Friday. Travel alone would be an issue, Mr. Brady told reporters on Friday.

“I think it’s bad for the players in terms of West Coast teams having to travel through that many time zones, and I think it’s another example of the unmitigated greed of the NFL that they will continue to try to rake in more money without considering whether it actually adds value for the fan base,” says Patriots fan Sean Perry.

Barstool Sports blog says such cross-cultural experimentation is fine up to a point, especially to show the Redcoats how tough the old colonies remain (and perhaps how the Patriots still dominate).

“For the British, it’s a chance to see real football played by real men, not kickball played by diminutive pipsqueaks like David Beckham who aren’t athletic enough to make a high school JV lacrosse team here in the States,” the blog brags.

Fair point. But let’s not forget that European football -- soccer, we mean -- is still the world’s most popular sport -- more versatile, more elegant, and, at the end of the day, less bone-crunching than its American counterpart.

Indeed, at the end of the day, a share of the world’s football fan base is what the New World’s NFL ultimately covets.


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