A full house for the latest SJA lunch heard the NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, announce the match-ups for the 2014 Wembley games and outline his organisation’s longer term plans, as ANTON RIPPON reports
American football fans will have the opportunity to see three regular season games at Wembley next year, but the likelihood of a permanent London franchise is still some way into the future according to NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell.
The “most powerful man in world sport” was speaking to an audience of sportswriters at the latest SJA lunch held in King’s Cross, where he revealed that next year the Dallas Cowboys will play in Britain for the first time when they take on Wembley “regulars” the Jacksonville Jaguars, while the Atlanta Falcons will meet the Detroit Lions and the Oakland Raiders will “host” the Miami Dolphins.
The Jaguars are “at home” to the San Francisco 49ers this Sunday, but Goodell couldn’t say whether the growing interest would lead to London having its own team.
“We want to expose more fans to the NFL and certainly fans in the UK want more,” Goodell said. Referring to a possible permanent London franchise, he said, “But I don’t know where it will go. At some point in time it perhaps become obvious that it will work.
“In the meantime, teams are now happy to come to here. Initially it was difficult to get teams to play in London, but every team that has come over has had a great experience and now more want to come than we can accommodate.
“The visits are certainly good for the communities that are served by the teams. More people over here have now heard of Jacksonville.”
Could games be held in other cities, like Sydney or Beijing, or franchises be set up there? And could London one day host the Super Bowl? “Well, we certainly want to globalise our game – indeed, I’m looking forward to the day when we are a truly global game – but we don’t want to tackle the globe all at once. And as for the Super Bowl, well it has to be held in a city that has an NFL team, so until there is a franchise in London … and we haven’t even got back to Los Angeles yet.”
Goodell wasn’t concerned about the possible counter-attraction of a winter soccer World Cup in 2022: “I don’t think it will harm the NFL at all. The interest level in our sport is already off the scale, and we’ll make it even bigger and better.
“The passion for it transcends just the games themselves. The Super Bowl has now moved well beyond a simple event. It is a week of events. We are continually creating more in order to satisfy the demand.
“In many ways we dominate the sporting landscape. Fans’ passions explode and no other sport can bring a community together like NFL. And there are more and more ways to be a fan of NFL. Take the draft. There is enormous interest in that.”
Goodell was quick to dismiss a suggestion that his organisation’s own television channel, NFL Network, was subject to any editorial control, and he underlined that every player is obliged to talk to the press. What would he do if a player didn’t fancy it? “I don’t care if he fancies it. I just care that he does it. Going into locker rooms works for us because it’s good for the fans. Players need to speak to the media because this is how they connect to the fans.”
Goodell also rejected a suggestion that the game was becoming more brutal, especially with head-to-head tackles and resultant concussions.
“We’ve worked really hard to eliminate that. We’re continually updating our medical advice and getting back to basics in terms of teaching players – right down to the youth game – how to tackle properly. In that regard there are things that we’ve learned from the game of rugby.
“Of course, we have to pay regard to the fact that people want to see physical contact, but you can take out the dangerous tackle without diminishing physicality. We believe in making our sport – indeed, any sport – safer and we’re always willing to share the results of our research with other sporting bodies.”
Goodell and his fellow administrators are meeting with Premier League officials while the Americans are over here, but without any specific agenda. “We’re happy to talk with any sport, to see if there can be things to our mutual benefit. There is certainly an interest in the Premier League in the USA. People like to watch it on NBC.”
- The next SJA lunch is on November 12 with, courtesy of Laureus, Sean Fitzpatrick. Booking details are here
- Between now and the end of 2013, anyone wishing to join the SJA may apply, with their initial fee covering their membership through until the end of 2014 – effectively 15 months’ membership for the price of 12. Click here for more details.
UPCOMING SJA EVENTS
Mon Mar 24: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards, Grand Connaught Rooms, London
Mon Apr 14: SJA Spring Golf Day: Croham Hurst GC, Surrey. Booking details to be announced