London NFL franchise on track for 2022 touchdown

The National Football League is "exactly on track" with its plans to field a team in London and could have a franchise there by 2022, the league’s international chief said yesterday.

Mark Waller said he believed in 2007 when the NFL first started playing in the British capital it would take 15 years to place a team there and, so far, he’s encountered no stumbling blocks.

“We’re at the midway point of that 15-year journey,” Waller said in London, where the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons will play Sunday at Wembley. “I think we’re exactly on track.”

Sunday’s affair marks the second of three sold-out games the league will play this season at Wembley, the home of England’s national soccer team.

“I always thought it would take 15 years to be truly rigorous in our analysis before we get to the end of what we can deliver,” said Waller.

“All of the indicators are that there’s a huge level of support, there’s a very good stadium, and now we’re starting to realise there’s a belief within British sport and British government that what we’re trying to accomplish is not only attractive but doable.”

Confidence in Britain that the NFL will place a team in London spiked this week when George Osborne, the British treasury chief, told the Evening Standard that the government will do whatever it can “to make this happen.”

Osborne discussed the move with NFL officials and insists the UK government will back the creation of a Wembley-based franchise.

“One of London’s massive strengths is its sporting prowess, its great football teams,” Osborne said.

“This is primarily a decision for the owners of the clubs and the NFL organisation but I’ve said to the NFL that anything the government can do to make this happen we will do, because I think it would be a huge boost to London.”

He added: “There are 32 teams in America — and one of them could be a London team. That’s a serious prospect.”

The Atlanta Falcons and the Detroit Lions meeting at Wembley on Sunday is the 10th NFL game to be staged at Wembley. The game comes almost seven years to the day that the first — between the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants — took place at Wembley.

In September, more than 83,000 fans saw the Miami Dolphins defeat the Oakland Raiders 38-14 at Wembley, while the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Dallas Cowboys will meet at the stadium on November 9.

In August 2012, the Jaguars committed to playing a game at Wembley every year for four years until 2016.

Each of the NFL games this year in London will draw more than 83,000 fans, and a fan festival on Regent Street last month drew huge crowds.

“I feel very good about the popularity of the sport in the UK,” said Waller.

Should the NFL place a team in London, Waller said the league would look at other countries for possible franchises, most notably Germany or Brazil.

“If we’re successful in the UK, that’s a good indictor that we can grow the sport and its interest globally,” he said. “It’s not that we’re going to be in 160 countries, it’s going to be very focused. We’ll look at the next one or two markets.”

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