WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The National Football League is “exactly on track” with its plans to field a team in London and could have a franchise there by 2022, the league’s international chief said Thursday.
Mark Waller said he believed in 2007 when the NFL first started playing in the British capital it would take 15 years to place a team there and, so far, he’s encountered no stumbling blocks.
“We’re at the midway point of that 15-year journey,” Waller told Reuters in a telephone interview from London where the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons will play Sunday at Wembley Stadium. “I think we’re exactly on track.”
Sunday’s affair marks the second of three sold-out games the league will play this season at Wembley, the home of England’s national soccer team.
“I always thought it would take 15 years to be truly rigorous in our analysis before we get to the end of what we can deliver,” said Waller.
“All of the indicators are that there’s a huge level of support, there’s a very good stadium, and now we’re starting to realize there’s a belief within British sport and British government that what we’re trying to accomplish is not only attractive but doable.”
Confidence in the United Kingdom that the NFL will place a team in London spiked this week when George Osborne, the British treasury chief, told the Evening Standard newspaper that the government will do whatever it can “to make this happen.”
Each of the NFL games this year in London will draw more than 83,000 fans, and a fan festival on Regent Street last month drew huge crowds.
“I feel very good about the popularity of the sport in the UK,” said Waller.
Waller cautioned that there were several hurdles yet to be tested, such as staging games on consecutive weekends. He was concerned how the field would hold up and if Wembley had the infrastructure to host back-to-back games.
He said the NFL would likely test those issues next year when it schedules its London games. Other concerns, he said, were flying teams from the U.S. West Coast to London and not having to schedule a bye week after teams play there.
Should the NFL place a team in London, Waller said the league would look at other countries for possible franchises, most notably Germany or Brazil.
“If we’re successful in the UK, that’s a good indictor that we can grow the sport and its interest globally,” he said. “It’s not that we’re going to be in 160 countries, it’s going to be very focused. We’ll look at the next one or two markets.”
Editing by Eric Walsh