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Making a schedule for a London NFL team

Would the NFL roll out the carpet for London?

Would the NFL roll out the carpet for London?

Bill Barnwell wrote an interesting article about the hurdles the NFL must jump to successfully place a team in London. We don’t know whether the NFL would move an existing team or place an expansion team in London (presumably with the introduction of a second expansion team, likely in Los Angeles, as well). Thirty-four teams is an unwieldy number, so expansion might even bring us to 36 teams (with six teams in three divisions in each conference).

Anecdotally, it seems like most fans are against placing a team in London, or expansion, or change of any kind. For me, the most interesting hurdle to analyze is how to come up with a schedule for a London team. And I think I’ve figured out a decent solution (there are no perfect options). I’m going to use the Buffalo Bills 2013 slate of opponents as a model just because I need to pick some team’s schedule as a model for London’s franchise (I’m going to self-appoint them the Monarchs for purposes of this post). Here are my thoughts:

Week: 1 – Cincinnati Bengals (Home – Friday at 2:30 Eastern)
Week: 2 – Baltimore Ravens (Home)

The big hurdle in creating the schedule is limiting the number of cross-Atlantic trips for the Monarchs.  As a result, you need to bunch together home and road games. And since we want to have the London games in the middle of the season — so we can give the opponents in those games a bye after playing in London — that necessitates a couple of home games early in the year.

The NFL can use the time zone difference to its advantage here, and create a March Madness-style of Friday afternoon fun. On Thursday Night, we have the opener featuring last year’s Super Bowl champion.  And then on Friday afternoon — at 7:30 PM in London — we get another huge event. There would be a Super Bowl-type of atmosphere at the “Week 1 Kickoff Extravaganza” in London on Friday night, and you can be sure that it would get monstrous ratings in England. The NFL doesn’t schedule Friday night games because it doesn’t want to compete with high school football, but the time zone difference works to everyone’s advantage here. The Bengals can fly home after the game and be back in Cincinnati early in the morning on Saturday — which gives them two extra days to prepare for week two.

It also makes sense to have a team that played on Thursday Night in the NFL opener play in London in week two. This year, that would be the Ravens, but it can also be the non-Super Bowl champion appearing in that game.  Baltimore can fly out to London early in the week, using those extra days to help ease some of the travel burden. If they like, the Ravens (or whomever is in the week two slot) can get a Monday Night game in week three.

Week: 3 – Jacksonville Jaguars (Road)
Week: 4 – New Orleans Saints (Road)
Week: 5 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Road)

London’s schedule will always include an East Coast trip, so I’ve put these three games together here.  Depending on which division the Monarchs are in, the schedule will change, and obviously New Orleans isn’t an East Coast city. Still, this seems like a reasonable travel itinerary — the Monarchs will have just had two straight home games, and a trip to Jacksonville isn’t so bad. I would suggest the London team do a Youngstown, Ohio and stay in one city for three weeks.1 In this scenario, the Monarchs could stay anywhere in SEC country for a few weeks to practice, before heading to play the actual games.

Week: 6 – Kansas City Chiefs (Home)
Week: 7 – New York Jets (Home)
Week: 8 – New England Patriots (Home)

This would probably be the toughest part of the schedule: flying from Tampa Bay to London takes close to nine hours. The week 5 game would always be scheduled for 1PM, which would put the Monarchs home at around 7 or 8 in the morning local time on Monday. London would get three straight home games, and the team’s opponents would get byes in weeks 7, 8, and 9.

Week: 9 – Cleveland Browns (Road)
Week: 10 – Pittsburgh Steelers (Road – Monday Night)

Traveling to Cleveland from London is a little rough (an eight-hour flight), but the Monarchs have been home for three straight weeks. Ideally, the week 10 game should come against a team near the week 9 opponent. In seasons where London plays the AFC West or NFC West, you would slot the two games against West Coast teams here.

One thing you might not have considered: scheduling Monday Night Football games for London will be challenging. A 9PM kickoff on the East Coast is a 2AM kickoff in London, which seems like a sure way to anger the British fan base. Still, if you do want to have a Monday Night game, I think it makes sense to do it as a lead-in to the bye week, and after another game in America. You could simply mandate that the Monarchs never play on Monday Night, but that doesn’t seem like the type of branding Goodell is going after.

Week: 11 – Bye

After that stretch, we give London a bye, before setting them up for three straight home games.

Week: 12 – Miami Dolphins (Home)
Week: 13 – Atlanta Falcons (Home)
Week: 14 – Carolina Panthers (Home – Thursday Night)

Nothing too controversial here. In weeks 13, the Dolphins would have a bye. The tricky issue here is the Falcons, because we don’t want to give them a week 14 bye (too late in the season). Instead, we have the week 13 opponent automatically play at home and on Monday Night in week 14. That should make the transition a little easier for the Atlantas of the world. As for Carolina, we give them a bye in week 13 — in fact, it should be scheduled so Miami and Carolina are the only two teams with a week 13 bye, as that’s already later than ideal — and make the week 14 game on Thursday Night. That means the Panthers play a game in week 12, plays 11 days later in London, and then plays 10 days later back in America: that doesn’t seem too problematic.

The one issue here is what time a “Thursday Night” game would be scheduled for in London. They’re not going to start a game at midnight, which means we’re looking at a likely 3PM start on the east coast. That’s a pretty tough sell for the Panthers and NFL Network, but the NFL may view this as a small price to pay.

Week: 15 – Miami Dolphins (Road)
Week: 16 – New York Jets (Road)
Week: 17 – New England Patriots (Road)

The schedule closes with three road games against division rivals. Those games can’t be at home because of the travel involved for the other team, but London could stay on the East Coast and play these games without too much trouble.

So those are my thoughts on how a scheduling might work for a London franchise. There are other options2, but I like this one best. I know most fans are anti-London, but I still find this to be a fun theoretical exercise.

  1. Some have suggested that a London team would have a “sister” city in the U.S. That makes some sense, and would make putting together a schedule easier if you assume that they would play one game at this sister city’s site. But (1) I’m not sure if the sister city plan is what the NFL is envisioning, and (2) I can’t think of a good city that makes sense. You would want it to be on the East Coast, I think, but that part of the country is pretty well-represented in the NFL right now. I don’t know how much sense it makes to have a team with say, a London-Birmingham connection. I think the sister city plan would make scheduling easier, but practically, it’s hard to think of an appropriate connection with a U.S. city. []
  2. Here’s one of them: Split the season into three parts. Weeks 1 through 4, London plays on the road; a slate of Pittsburgh-New Orleans-Jacksonville-Tampa Bay would seem to cause minimal additional travel woes for the Monarchs, and obviously this doesn’t inconvenience any current NFL team.

    Then London would play eight straight home games, with a bye week placed in the middle after four home games. The beauty here is that you could give the opponent a bye following the London game each week — weeks 4 through 12 are the bye weeks right now, so six of the eight games could be the week before a bye and with no disruption. The last two home games would be during weeks 12 and 13: a simple solution would be to give two teams byes in week 13, and to play the week 13 game on Thursday Night, giving the opponent ten days between games (you would also give the opponent a week 12 bye). The Monarchs’ last four games would be on the road — at Cleveland, at the Jets, at New England, and at Miami.

    This schedule causes minimal hassle to the rest of the league and to the London franchise. The Monarchs would have to make just two trips across the Atlantic Ocean during the regular season — back home after week 4, and after week 13 to America.

    This is the simplest option, but there are some drawbacks. The most obvious: how excited would fans be at the prospect of eight home games in nine weeks? Would London like playing the role of traveling vagabond for half the season every year? []

{ 18 comments }
  • Bill August 31, 2013, 1:48 am

    I hope to God Roger Goodell doesn’t read this. He might think it feasible!

    Reply
    • Roger Goodell January 19, 2014, 1:41 am

      Uhh…

      Reply
  • George August 31, 2013, 7:03 am

    I had to comment on this one, living in “Greater” London and within about 20 miles of Wembley Stadium (given the topography of London, I can see the arch over Wembley Stadium on a clear evening). Whilst I know that this is all hypothetical, practically I just can’t see this working. Whilst having the International Series in town always provides some entertainment (the American fan in Niketown last year, asking if you could gamble in there, or where can I gamble – who had to get on) I just can’t see it taking off locally.

    I think the main problem and it is something that Barnwell touched on, is at a lot of the games you’ve had a collection of fans from all over the country and in some cases Europe making a once a year pilgrimage to London to see an NFL game. The fans aren’t all from London or the Greater London area (or even the south of England – there were plenty of fans in Scottish Claymores jerseys). The stadium also doesn’t regularly sell the games out (despite what may be claimed). I know there has been a recession on for the last 4-5 years, but in the last couple of years you could have got a ticket off of touts outside of the stadium at game time for less than face value (if you wanted to do that kind of thing). They also tarp over a couple of thousand seats (or have done at the games I’ve been to). The biggest issue you would have is the Premier League “soccer” season would be in full flow during the season and currently with 6 clubs playing in London you would be competing for fans and I don’t think there would be a sufficient constant demand for tickets.

    You also have the timing issue which would be a serious problem with Monday Night Football. The latest that you could kick that game off would be about 8pm UK (1pm Eastern – which I’m sure would translate to not a lot of viewers – unless you did it around the last week of the season near Christmas?). Kicking a game off any later than 8pm at Wembley with 3-ish hours needed and you would be running close towards last Underground Train (think Metro) time. Finishing around 11pm UK time, would allow them an hour to clear the stadium which is practical before the last train.

    You’d definitely need the twinning issue but I can’t think who you would twin with practically. London is actually twinned with New York (and whilst I’m sure some people would give us the Jets) having three teams based in New York for part of the season wouldn’t be practical.

    One major issue I can see is when the NFC West gets scheduled against the London team. I think you will see it this year when the 49ers turn up, I expect the game time line for this game to be at least 3 points off whatever your rating system of choice has it. Travelling has an effect and I’ve noticed it in lines for previous games held over here.

    One other quick thought and it would be applicable to East Coast teams coming over, instead of having the London team play all of it’s games in London to try and generate more fan involvement you could have them play a couple of games in other close European cities. Paris has the Stade de France, which like Wembley has no permeant tenants and could be used for a game (similar spec and similar capacity – similar flying time to London or 3 hours by train from London). You could also look at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin (about an hour further than London by plane – good capacity, and the tourist factor – former home of the Berlin Thunder etc.). The ideal location in terms of connections (and providing accessibility to mainland Europe and a wider fanbase) would be Brussels but the National Stadium there is far from ideal (50,000 capacity and a running track around the outside like the Olympic Stadium in Munich which would be another alternative). I’m sure by improving the accessibility of the team it would possibly make it more viable (think of it as Buffalo playing in Toronto – you could expand a team there which might be more practical except it would probably affect the Bills fanbase and the Argonauts fanbases as well?).

    Just some quick thoughts on my part, and I’m sure people have others – as you say it’s a fun theoretical exercise.

    Reply
    • Chase Stuart August 31, 2013, 9:28 am

      Thanks, George. I was hoping we’d hear from you. I agree that there are lots of question marks about the viability of a team. But I think we’re headed that way — it may not be a success, especially at first, but I think it will happen.

      Also, what do you think the team name will be?!

      Reply
      • Sunrise089 August 31, 2013, 9:57 am

        I know you didn’t ask me, but..,

        Semi-serious current team names that could repeat for London and be used instead of ‘Monarchs:’

        *Royals
        *Kings
        *Yankees :)

        Name that’s probably offensive plus sounds too much like an MLS squad but I still love:

        *Blitz

        Name they should use:

        *Bulldogs

        Reply
        • George August 31, 2013, 4:03 pm

          Hi Chase and Sunrise,

          If they don’t re-boot (or whatever the term of choice is these days) the Monarchs, I see them possibly using the Knights (former London hockey franchise, good name adds in the Historical thing, good logo). I also think Bulldogs is a good choice (and would be an easy sell on the merchandise).

          I hate to say it though they would probably use something like Royals as that would possibly appeal to mainstream America (who appear more interested in the UK Royal Family, than the average UK resident – and would need to buy in on this team because of why are they changing the game in this way that may start affecting who wins the Superbowl e.g. the risk of the London Team getting a Home Playoff game). The problem would be that the average UK fan that they would need to buy in to actually attend the games would possibly regard a name like that as patronising (there seems to be a slight connection problem in the 18-34 demographic with the UK Royal Family for a number of reasons).

          That I think is the real problem with this, the NFL as you say are probably keen to push this (to use it as grounds to up the number of teams and bring the NFL back to LA) but they cannot alienate traditional US fans, but if they are establishing a franchise overseas (in a country where the game isn’t really played or understood) they need to make a real effort in the UK to make it take as they will need at least 40,000 – 50,000 to turn up to make this work.

          I remember one of the comments from one of the players that came over from an international series game (it was someone from the Rams I think) was they went to a couple of local schools to talk about the game, and where UK children would get something like basketball (when the NBA comes over) as it is more accessible and can play it, they had absolutely no concept of American Football (or what a linebacker was and why they did what they did – or tried to).

          I do like problems like this though as it does make you think. One thought I had, was if a European Franchise was to take place it would make sense for the NFL to build infrastructure on the East coast for teams to stay over at if needs be, to cut down on travelling distances (e.g. splitting flight lengths to say 2400-ish miles or San Diego to New York). You also need more studies into the effect of travel on players, teams and results (e.g. result against expected result) as if it started affecting teams to the point where whoever was drawn against London during a season had say 10% less chance of making the playoffs, then you start having the issue of people wanting to put *’s (asterisks) against Championships (because whoever didn’t play in London, got a bye and Homefield Advantage whereas another team played in London ended up in a wildcard game and lost etc.).

          Reply
          • Chase Stuart August 31, 2013, 4:58 pm

            Good stuff, guys. I also like Bulldogs. I think Royals would be the worst choice of the four (I also like Knights).

            Reply
    • Chase Stuart September 1, 2013, 10:05 am

      One new note: it appears that there is an international regulation that prevents the teams from flying out Sunday night right after the game. So they’d have to wait until Monday to fly out of London.

      Reply
      • Richie September 1, 2013, 10:04 pm

        There is a law that you can’t fly from London to USA on a Sunday night?

        Reply
        • Chase Stuart September 1, 2013, 10:31 pm

          I was as surprised as you are. Here’s one source: http://boston.cbslocal.com/2012/10/28/hurricane-sandy-may-keep-patriots-in-london-through-mid-week/

          Under British law, Heathrow Airport closes by 11 p.m. London time. With the Patriots and Rams kicking off at 5 p.m. London time, that doesn’t give the Pats a very good chance to leave Sunday night ahead of the storm.

          The Patriots ended up landing at around noon EST on Monday, which means they must have taken the first flight out in the morning: http://boston.cbslocal.com/2012/10/29/patriots-fly-safely-to-boston-prior-to-hurricane-sandys-arrival/

          Reply
          • George September 2, 2013, 4:46 pm

            Yeah this is all true, I didn’t think of it being a problem (as I couldn’t get my head around the team being viable I guess and there were other problems I could see that I just wanted to mention). Due to the amount of traffic going through Heathrow (first in the world on passenger movements, second in the world on vehicle movements behind New York which I think has four airports?), basically anything louder than 99db’s can’t fly between 11pm and 7:00am and carriers have a quota of what other types of planes they can use during these hours.

            Thinking about it though – the worst they will lose is a couple of hours. Let’s say that they get an agreement to run trains an hour later, making a later kick-off viable and the game kicks off at 4:00pm ET (9:00pm GMT). The game finishes 12:00pm GMT, they clear the stadium at 1:00am GMT, arrive at Heathrow 2:00am GMT, 3 hours clearance for an international flight – worst case that they should lose will be 2-3 hours I guess. The other airport that would be possible (Gatwick) also has the same restrictions and wouldn’t be viable as it is on the other side of London near me (and at least an hour further away from the stadium).

            Reply
            • Chase Stuart September 2, 2013, 5:55 pm

              Thanks, George. You have just earned yourself the title of Football Perspective’s English Reporter on the Scene.

              Reply
  • Sunrise089 August 31, 2013, 9:50 am

    Chase,

    I’d read Barnwell’s article and appreciate your additional thoughts. I think the two of you plus the other commenters have raised most of problems this plan would face. I just want to add one – what I term the Sloppy Seconds Bowl on the first Friday of the season. I think you’re way overestimating the popularity of that game, and in fact I think it would have the worst ratings of any national NFL game each year. If if was the kickoff game it would be completely different, but instead you’d have fans all geared up to start the season, start it with a high profile game involving the past champion, then less than 24 hours later have another game, during the work day, on the lowest TV ratings day of the week. People like the weekday daytime March madness games for getting pool purposes, but I’d be shocked if the TV ratings for those games approached NFL numbers. IMHO if you want to do a weekday London game, make it be the first game as part of a Thursday double-header with the previous champion still getting the prime time game later Thursday night. Then it’s a true kickoff game, and on a day more people leave work and go home to watch TV.

    Reply
  • Richie September 1, 2013, 10:08 pm

    For any Thursday or Monday games, couldn’t they just schedule them at 6pm (or 8pm) London time and just treat it as a regional game for the visiting team? Then, have a normal Monday or Thursday game at 8pm Eastern Time that would be a national game. There are plenty of non-national games every Sunday. It wouldn’t hurt to have them be played on a Monday or Thursday instead. The only drawback is those fans of the traveling team would have to watch them in the early afternoon, or record them on the DVR.

    On the other hand, what if the NFL just went crazy and added 4 teams in Europe. Having them play each other twice per seasons would only leave 10 games per season to deal with the trans-Atlantic headache.

    Clearly, if the NFL really put team(s) in Europe, it would change the way we are used to watching games on TV.

    Reply
  • George September 2, 2013, 4:57 pm

    Re: European teams – whilst I think in some respects that would be a good idea, this would hit on the other problem that Bill Barnwell raised in his article, rates of income tax. In America I think the top rate of tax is just under 40% (federal), in the UK it is 45% (and the same in Germany) due to the economic problems in Europe though, France have upped theirs to 75% next year, and Spain recently went to 52% (Belgium is at 55%, but I don’t think they are viable for the lack of infrastructure as mentioned above). Basically European teams would definitely need a higher salary cap as Barnwell suggested – and that would bring about a whole series of issues for current teams (e.g. say demands for cost of living increases for the New York teams as opposed to say Jacksonville – am taking a guess with the cities here).

    Reply
  • Phil Roberts September 25, 2013, 3:30 am

    I suggested a “twin city” approach a couple of years ago.

    Home games against West Coast Sides are played in the US and Home games against East Coast Sides are played in Europe. Away games are played in the US (obviously!).

    That gives 4 games in London (say), a team to support, effectively twice the population to entice to the game and for most of the teams, no real difference in travel distance/time. (San Fran to Boston =2699 miles; Boston to London = 3281) for East Coast teams playing West Coast than playing in London.

    There are however so many other issues, and will I really start supporting a London team? Probably not!

    Reply
  • George September 29, 2013, 1:37 pm

    Just a quick one on this – to celebrate the first London game, and the spike in people in the UK wanting to place an NFL bet during the game week (honestly it happens), one bookmaker has placed odds on their being an NFL Franchise in London by the end of 2020 (4/1 or +400 – so still highly unlikely and would you really want to place a bet that you are have to wait for possibly up to 7 years to pay off?). They also placed odds on their being a London Superbowl by the end of 2020 (which I think isn’t unrealistic but they only have 2018 or 2019 for this to pay off). The odds were 50/1 or +5000 (so a serious long-shot).

    Reply
    • Richie September 30, 2013, 6:09 pm

      Is placing bets on these sorts of things destroying your society?

      Reply

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