LONDON — New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft had a message for British advocates of NFL football last week, telling them the time had come for them to get their own franchise.
“You’re already hosting the Premier League (in soccer), and we believe we’re the premier sport in the world,” Kraft said one day before the Patriots face-slapped the Rams in the sixth regular-season NFL game played in London.
“I think London has shown, with the way they’ve handled the Olympics and every other major sporting event, that it’s time for you to have your own NFL franchise, based in London.”
Since Kraft’s Patriots are now 2-0 at Wembley Stadium, one can see why he might want to visit there more often, but maybe the NFL should consider putting a franchise back in Los Angeles first.
An entire generation of Los Angelinos has grown up without the presence of America’s premier sport gracing their grounds, and despite their alleged rejection of the previously named Los Angeles Rams as well as the always seemingly out of place Los Angeles Raiders in the mid-1990s, they would still seem a far more rich vein to be mined by the NFL than London.
“We’ve seen the TV ratings,’’ Kraft insisted however. “The good news is, the Patriots are the No. 1 team in England. I think as things develop, there’s a permanent home team (there).
“Jacksonville’s going to play here four years in a row. I’m sure they’ll develop a big following. But we have a big UK fan club that comes across the pond every year. I try to meet with them. They’ve been really supportive of us.
“Whatever we can do to cultivate and develop the playing of football throughout the world (we’ll do),’’ added Kraft, who already supports an active football team in Israel. “I don’t know that we’ve done as good a job as we could, educating the rest of the world what a great game it is, so we’ll continue to do that.”
That’s all well and good, especially considering the popularity of the NBA both in Europe and Asia and the revenue it has brought into their bulging coffers. But wait just a minute on the London franchise idea.
According to a source familiar with the NFL’s place in Europe, NFL football’s television ratings in England presently ranked eighth among its various televised sports. That puts them right behind darts. Now darts may be a sport in England, but it’s pretty much a bar-room drinking game in the U.S. or something you do at the county fair to pop a few balloons and win a stuffed animal for your kids.
What else is it behind? Rounders?
Well, try rugby, cricket, soccer (known in these parts as real football), motor sports, cycling, golf and Lord knows what else.
A brief foray into local William Hill and Ladbrokes betting shops along Edgeware Road netted no chance to place a small wager on the Rams or Patriots, but you could get down on how many corner kicks were likely in the Manchester United-Chelsea soccer match that kicked off to massive TV ratings an hour before Rams-Patriots. You could also place a wager on darts.
Pats? Not so fast.
As much as the NFL may say it’s opposed to gambling, wagers large and small are as much a part of the fabric of pro football as the deep pass and the sack. Until you see those games on the board at William Hill don’t expect to be seeing the London Churchills in the NFL.
None of the above means there may not come a day when Robert Kraft is right about London. It is one of the world’s great cities, well capable of supporting any type of sporting event and with a growing interest in NFL football. But it’s also a passing interest at this stage, so before the league doubles down on its efforts to go global, maybe it should first consider going fully national and putting a team back in the biggest media market and second-largest city in the good old U.S. of A.?
Ron Borges is a columnist for the Boston Herald.
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