Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

London NFL team 'likely to become a reality'

The St Louis Rams players make their entrance at Wembley on Sunday
The St Louis Rams players make their entrance at Wembley on Sunday

Wembley Stadium is willing and able to host any prospective London-based NFL franchise, and could do so alongside the “priority” demands of football, according to senior figures within the Football Association.

On Sunday the stadium will host the first of two NFL games this season, when the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Minnesota Vikings in front of a full house. Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, has become increasingly keen on establishing a franchise in London, having been impressed by the success of the one-off matches staged there.

Goodell suggested this summer the “London Whatevers” are likely to  become a reality at some stage – “the more we see, the more we like it,” he said of the idea of a long-term London franchise – and the managing director of Wembley Stadium, a subsidiary of the Football Association, said today the demands of staging regular American football games were not a problem for the stadium, or the pitch.

Roger Maslin, Wembley’s managing director, insisted Sunday’s match would leave no mark on the playing surface ahead of England’s decisive World Cup qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland next month, and nor would it be an issue should American football be played every second week during the season.

“We have no qualms whatsoever about delivering a fantastic surface for England,” said Maslin. “We would be very happy to facilitate NFL at Wembley. We can hold games every couple of weeks, absolutely. Clearly, with the calendar we have to look very, very carefully and make sure we have the right balance. Football is our priority but I am absolutely confident that if Roger Goodell wanted to have a franchise here that we could absolutely deliver on it.”

There have been suggestions that the Jacksonville Jaguars, who will play a game at Wembley for four successive seasons from this year, could be the franchise in question. The Jaguars are owned by Shahid Khan, who this summer bought Fulham, and face the San Francisco 49ers next month.

Both this season’s games sold out within hours and it is that appetite that so appeals to the NFL. It reflects Wembley’s – and London’s – growing stature as a sporting venue. Uefa has been won over by the two recent Champions League finals held in London, although it is unlikely to be enough to secure the final and semi-finals of Euro 2020 for Wembley.

England and Wales are among eight countries bidding for the final stages of the Uefa president Michel Platini’s scattered tournament. Turkey are favourites but England stand a good chance of instead hosting one of the groups and a quarter-final.

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