With ratings up 80% for NFL games, London looks ‘ready’ now

LONDON – Those declining NFL TV ratings? Keep them in the States, mate.

Through Week 4, the United Kingdom’s Sky Sports and BBC networks had drawn 9.8 million viewers to their NFL coverage, up a startling 80 percent from the 5.4 million through that same period last season.

That is part of the reason why Neil Reynolds, a leading studio host for Sky Sports NFL coverage in the U.K., says it’s time to stop asking the question of whether London is ready for its own NFL franchise.

“You’ll hear people say we’re still three, years away from being ready for a team,” Reynolds told the Daily News in London on Friday. “But I think we’re already there.”

Reynolds’ true belief, though, rests in the test of “can you fill the stadiums?” The NFL has regularly sold out 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium for two or three games a year since 2007. The same is expected of 82,000-seat Twickenham Stadium for Giants-Rams. So how difficult would it be to fill 61,000 seats eight times a season?

That is what glistening new Tottenham Stadium will seat when it opens in 2018, and there is a belief that the Hotspur football club’s new digs could be the tipping point that attracts an NFL franchise across the pond.

The stadium will be equipped with two fields. The main field will be for soccer, but that field will pull out of the stadium the way that the Arizona Cardinals’ University of Phoenix Stadium does, and an NFL turf field will simply be raised from underneath, Reynolds said.

It is also being built to handle the larger demands of NFL franchises, such as locker room size.

“The NFL knows it’s not going to replace football (soccer) or rugby,” Reynolds said. “But the fan base is very knowledgeable, people can watch on NFL GamePass online, and on SkySports we’re already televising Thursday night football, three games live on Sunday, and Monday night also.

“From 2007 (when the NFL began playing annual games in London), everything has been on an upward curve,” Reynolds said. “TV, it’s the fastest growing university spot, flag football.”

Reynolds himself first attended an NFL game himself in 1987 at Wembley Stadium, and as he put it, his connection to the game certainly has come “full circle.”

That game, part of the American Bowl series of preseason games abroad beginning in 1986, featured the L.A. Rams and the Denver Broncos. That’s the Los Angeles Rams, who of course became the St. Louis Rams but are now back in the City of Angels as they return to London Sunday to face the Giants.

NFL helmets on display during an NFL fan rally at Victoria house in London.

NFL helmets on display during an NFL fan rally at Victoria house in London.

(Tim Ireland/AP)

Games had continued at Wembley until 1993, when attendance fell to 45,000 for a Cowboys-Lions preseason tie. Fans wanted regular season games, but the appetite was there.

“That created a fan base,” Reynolds said of the American Bowl series. “Now NFL interest is through the roof.”

Scheduling a London team would perhaps be the biggest hurdle, navigating the travel and bye weeks for both visiting teams and the London franchise to go on the road.

There is less noise these days about the Jacksonville Jaguars behind the likely relocating franchise. The Jaguars’ owner, Shahid Khan, also owns Fulham Football Club in the U.K. Adding a 33rd franchise to the mix, though, would seem a difficult task and a potential further watering down of the league as a whole.

Plus, there are reactions from players such as Giants defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison about the prospect of having to face a London team in the fold.

“That’d be tough,” Harrison said. “The road teams would have to go 6-10 hours across the world. I think it would be good for football, but I’d have to stay in the states.”

As Reynolds points out, though, the Indianapolis Colts this season already were back home at 1:30 a.m. local time from their 30-27 loss to the Jaguars at Wembley, not too different than a long trip across the U.S.

Plus, the NFL is testing everything out, from making the Colts play a game the following week – teams usually receive a bye off their London game – to hosting now its first-ever game at Twickenham Stadium on Sunday.

The NFL of course is constant conversation with local and government authorities about planning and logistics and support for these games, let alone a franchise. But the foundation exists.

“The knowledge of the fans has grown,” Reynolds said, before taking the stage to host a fan event Saturday with Odell Beckham Jr. and the Giants. “We’re ready.”

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Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News

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