THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
We are all aware of how Covid affected the National Football League last season; a lot of teams decided to close their doors all year, a few had limited capacity, and the Super Bowl itself was played with a less than half full stadium, a vast number made up of essential keyworkers as a show of support for those that helped during the height of the pandemic.
When adjustments were made at the start of the season, one of the first casualties was the International Series games, a feature on the calendar that many put a circle around, especially if you are a fan in the United Kingdom. With London being the center point for these games, and now with a purpose-built stadium in Tottenham, it was a real miss but a fully understandable one. With the UK in lockdown and restrictions surrounding travel it was an easy decision to make.
This past week the NFL has made several key announcements that will change the game. A 17-game season has long been talked about, and now it is a reality. An extra game in the season brings more competitive football for us to enjoy and shortens the pre-season, which many saw as elongated at four games, now cut short by one to allow the extra regular season matchup. Coaches and players will have to be more on their game when it comes to making those cuts to rosters.
Another major story broke involving the future of the International games. Rumors flew that the games would be pulled again for this coming year as we all still come to terms with the new normality after the lockdown eases off. Travel is still a concern, but with the NFL season still months away it was deemed that the games would indeed go ahead, and a new strategy was formulated to make it a fairer system for the teams travelling overseas.
It was confirmed that every team will play an International game every 8 years, guaranteeing that fans abroad will get to see their favorites at least once in that time. Starting in 2022 there will be a minimum of 4 games outside of America, and the NFL wants to expand further across Europe potentially tapping into the huge fanbase in Germany. For now, though the usual suspects are known, with London, Mexico and Canada being front runners to host games. This is where the 17th game comes into play as well. As there will be an odd number of home games, it was straightforward to decide that each conference would host game 17 on alternate years. The format allows for four teams from the extra home game slot to host a game abroad, thus allowing on a cycle each team to play a “home” game in a designated stadium away from home. The NFC will be the first conference to do this, in 2022, with the AFC in 2023 and flip-flopping thereafter.
Even though this is a strict format which all 32 teams agreed to, owners can still volunteer to play more games away from home if they choose to, so you could still have multiple games in London and beyond, something that the Jacksonville Jaguars have done often over recent years. With the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium being the official home of the NFL in London, it will no doubt be the first-choice venue for games, but the traditional venue of Wembley Stadium could, and likely will, be used too. So, where this plan is set up for the 2022 season, there was a bonus that there will be games here in London for this coming season. As per usual the whispers started as to who would be visiting.
One team came forward immediately after the announcement and said they were willing to come over to London and host a game in Tottenham. You can only assume it is a matter of time before another team (or teams) expresses interest as we try and shake the shackles of the coronavirus. The Atlanta Falcons will be playing here again, and as we already know the opponents of each team but not the actual schedule dates, we know that as well as their NFC South division rivals they are due to play the Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Football Team. Some decent potential teams already guaranteed to visit. The last time the Falcons played over here was in 2014 when they lost a thriller to the Lions 22-21 after leading by 21. Could history repeat itself?
Shortly after, the Jaguars reported they were also in advanced talks with Wembley Stadium to play in 2022, thus ensuring their growing base here continues. A statement from the Football Association, who own the stadium, read “We remain in ongoing, positive discussions with the Jacksonville Jaguars about hosting future games at Wembley Stadium, so are not in a position to comment further. The FA maintains good relationships with the NFL and Jacksonville Jaguars having enjoyed over a decade of hosting games at Wembley Stadium.”
With NFL back in this country on the horizon, it further signals the return to normal ways, and with other sports also showing green lights for test events, and stadiums filling up across America for the start of the baseball season, the future does start to look bright again for sports fans wishing to attend events and support the teams they follow.