The NFL is returning to play in London on Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, after a year-long hiatus. Casual American football fans might wonder: Why are some NFL games held in London in the first place? Here's what you need to know.
Why does the NFL play in London? What's the long-term goal?
According to an official NFL press release, the NFL London Games officially began in 2007. There have been 28 games over 13 consecutive seasons so far, until the London Games were postponed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The two teams playing in the Oct.10 London game are the New York Jets and the Atlanta Falcons. The games will be held at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Another game will follow on Oct. 17, featuring the Jacksonville Jaguars against the Miami Dolphins.
According to a 2017 report from Sports Insider, the primary objective of the NFL London Games has always been to establish American football as a permanent presence in England. The way this would be achieved? By placing an NFL team in London full-time and having an eight-game London season. Former NFL Executive Vice President of International Mark Waller told Sports Illustrated at the time of the 2017 report why he believed this was a viable option for the future of the NFL London Games.
"If the team had a second base on the East Coast, and when they came over to the States they were going back to a familiar place, there’s a general feel [among teams] that it would solve a vast number of the operational issues, whether it’s transportation issues, talent issues and making sure week-in, week-out, you have the talent you need on hand, increasingly there’s a belief that’s the right solution," Waller stated.
Of course, a permanent NFL London team hasn't happened as of yet. To be fair, Waller said in the 2017 interview that he thought the prospect of a permanent London team would be "doable" around 2022, and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic affected the world in 2020.
The past London Games have had sold-out crowds, but the jury's still out on whether they've actually been profitable for the NFL. There has been speculation on the profits of the London Games, but no official confirmation from the NFL as of yet.
The goal is now bigger than the game.
Not only does the NFL returning to London mean another game for (American) football fans to enjoy, but it also demonstrates a vote of confidence in the city of London itself. The U.K. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden conveyed this in the aforementioned NFL press release about the upcoming game on Oct. 10. "The NFL has become a regular fixture in the U.K.'s brilliant sporting calendar, and I'm delighted to welcome the League back to London for another season," he said.
"This is a major vote of confidence in our country's progress to bring [the] coronavirus under control and our ability to stage major sporting events safely. Our Events Research Program is playing an important role in testing the safe return of fans and will inform our decision making on getting people back watching live sport again safely in greater numbers."
It will be interesting if the 2021 NFL London games are able to make a profit, and if the NFL will be successful in establishing a permanent home team in London. Stay tuned for updates.
Both NFL London games kickoff at 9:30 a.m EST.