Craig: Would London be a good home for an NFL team?

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 28, 2013 - 11:42 PM

Commissioner favors it far more than athletes who have endured the logistics.

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Regent Street in London was closed to traffic from Oxford Circus to Piccadilly Circus on Saturday as the NFL staged its first Block Party, featuring interactive NFL content, team zones, music and entertainment, cheerleader performances, food and drink, merchandise and more. The event included appearances by players and coaches from the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings.

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– After an eight-hour flight, a six-hour time difference and days spent adjusting to it all, the Vikings were a good team to ask about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s offseason comments about the possibility of having a franchise in London permanently.

“Oooh, man,” receiver Greg Jennings said Thursday, three days before the Vikings’ game against the Steelers at Wembley Stadium. “Here to the States and back every time you played a road game? Wow. That would be tough.”

Jennings thinks having a team based here would be “great for the league.” He also said he wouldn’t rule out signing with a London team, although Jennings is 30 and the word around the league is a London franchise wouldn’t happen until at least 2020, the year the current collective bargaining agreement expires.

“I think it could happen,” Jennings said Thursday. “But the travel, that’s the challenge. Being here all week is good for us this week because it’s Thursday and guys are still trying to acclimate themselves to the time change. And then the long plane ride. You think it doesn’t affect you until you try to do your normal everyday routine, like lifting weights. The weights feel a little heavier because your body is a little weaker and different things like that.”

The problems of putting a team here permanently don’t end with travel issues. There are higher taxes, a different currency, labor laws that wouldn’t permit drafting players, a likely fight from the NFL Players Association and whether the team would be an expansion team or an existing franchise. And those are just a few of the hurdles.

Vikings union representative Chad Greenway wondered how the currency exchange rate — one British pound is worth $1.61 in U.S. dollars — would be handled when it comes to compensating players.

“I think it would be difficult working within a salary cap system to have a team here,” he said. “I’d think it would be harder bringing in free agents.”

Travel, however, seems to be the No. 1 objection. Especially for players who have made the trip and played in the game. There has been a regular-season game played here every year since 2007, and this year there are two games. The second one is the 49ers vs. Jaguars on Oct. 27.

Rams defensive end Chris Long, whose team played in this game last year, told ESPN that playing for a London team “would be like punishment” and that making anyone travel from London to the U.S. 10 times a year would be “ludicrous.”

One option would be having the London team stay on the road for multiple weeks if, say, it had more than one West Coast team on its schedule. Of course, to a lot of players, that wouldn’t be any more attractive than the alternative.

Tomorrow’s players had better get used to the idea, though. The NFL, Goodell in particular, is determined to “grow the game” — and the multibillion-dollar Golden Goose — overseas. And London is the target the NFL has been aiming at for years.

Goodell needs more players in his corner like Vikings rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.

“I would like it,” Patterson said. “You know, in the U.S., you get bored sometimes. I kind of like it over here. It would be great to have a team over here. I’d love to play here. It would be a great team to play for.”

That’s not a view shared by Vikings defensive end Jared Allen. He didn’t come out quite as strong as Long did. But he did make it clear this week that he wouldn’t be in favor of playing full-time over here.

“I think the fan base could sustain it,” Allen said. “But it’s a lot to ask for a player. Personally speaking, I probably wouldn’t sign over here because of the fact that every road trip is going to be three, four, five days away from your family. And then you start thinking about productivity and, ‘OK, now we’re going to play a West Coast game, and you’ve got an 11-hour plane ride.’

“Logistically, it’s tough on players and family members and stuff like that, but obviously, it’d be fun as an experience, getting to hang out in Europe. But when you’re looking at a minimum of a six-hour flight every road trip, I don’t know.”

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