This weekend sees the 2016 London NFL International Series draw to a close.
Despite a couple of dreary games the demand for regular season football remains high on this side of The Pond.
Alistair Kirkwood said he’s hopeful of unveiling the 2017 London schedule at around Thanksgiving
The last Wembley showdown between the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars saw the third-highest gate in the 2016 NFL season, so far. That for a game between two teams that had one win between them by the time their Week 4 showdown came to town.
A game between two poor teams attracted 84,000 fans. 75,000 turned up at Twickenham to cheer on two mediocre sides with 3&3 records. It doesn’t matter which teams turn up, the fans will come. Music to the Commissioner’s, Roger Goodell, ears with news of decreased prime time viewing figures making headlines back in the States.
For UK fans, our attentions now turns to who will come in 2017 and how many games will we get? We were hoping for four games this year, but didn’t. Could next year be the year that we get a quarter of a season’s worth of games in London?
Before fans started flocking towards Twickenham for that historical game on Sunday, 5thDownUK spent some time with NFL UK’s Managing Director, Alistair Kirkwood.
In an honest and open chat he talked about the difficulties in getting teams to come over and to confirm the stadia for the weeks those teams are available.
Will we get four games in 2017? “We’re currently talking about three or four games internally,” said Kirkwood. “Some of it will be based on stadium availability at both Twickenham and Wembley.”
“We looked at the Olympic Stadium 2/3 years ago, but it was a stadium built for specific things around the Olympics. The stadium wasn’t brilliant.”
He explained, “if you think that you get three or four teams who put their hands up and say they’re willing to put up a game, but then they say their conditions are they want a late bye week or an early bye week, or something else. Then you look at stadium availability amongst other things and then you go back to the teams to actually work out what works.”
So what Alistair is saying is that it’s a lot more difficult than people think. It’s like a complex algorithm, “then you’ve got a situation where you’re asking teams based on the opponents you desire”, he continued. “You will notice that we’ve had a couple of division games recently. They take up a heck of a lot to determine because until we played them there was a lot of nervousness.”
“So basically I don’t know.” It’s not quite the answer fans would be hoping for, but does he have a date for an announcement in mind? “The best guess is the end of November. I hope that I will know by the end of October for sure.”
With two stadia to play with the NFL now have options in London. There would be no way we’d be having four games at Wembley in 2017; it might even struggle to host three because of the venue’s commitments to soccer.
Alistair explained, “you have seen this year that Spurs are playing Champions League games at Wembley. Next year all their games will be there. Chelsea are being rumoured to be there as well. We don’t own our own stadium, we’re tenants and we go where there’s availability.”
“We looked at the Olympic Stadium 2/3 years ago, but it was a stadium built for specific things around the Olympics. The stadium wasn’t brilliant. There would have been considerable more work for us to get it ready. I can’t see a situation in the near future when we’ll have to play there.”
England has two World Cup qualifiers at Wembley during the 2017 NFL season on October 5 and November 11. That might rule out a Week 4 game there and will definitely prevent a Week 10 game from taking place at the home of English football.
The autumn internationals for England’s rugby union side take place throughout November, thus limiting access to Twickenham from Week 10 onwards.
The latest an NFL fixture has taken place in London is Week 10, so there’s every possibility of a game happening late in the season. But, that is the business end of the campaign which could make it more difficult to convince a team to give up a home game. The last bye weeks are in Week 11.
Options will increase in 2018 when Tottenham open their new stadium, designed to cater for the NFL. NFL UK will have three options with a commitment to at least two games at Wembley, two at Tottenham and one at Twickenham.
Fans wanting more than three games in 2017 might have to wait a year, but as Alistair Kirkwood said, “basically I don’t know.”
“Hardly anyone knows how complex it is,” said the NFL UK MD, “and how difficult it is to move things to get these games going.”
“If I was a betting man, and if I was allowed to bet as a league employee I would probably say that around Thanksgiving would be the most likely time (for an announcement).”
As the saying goes, everything comes to those who wait.