The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

NFL’s China plans come to a halt, but league isn’t giving up on permanent London team

Sorry, China. It might be a while until the NFL plays a game in your country. (Reuters photo)
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In March 2016, an NFL spokesman said the league was conducting “a detailed analysis” about playing a game in China as early as the 2018 season.

In September 2016, the league executive in charge of the NFL International Series said there was “a low likelihood” that a 2018 game could be played in China.

In September 2017, the plan to play a 2018 game in China has just about died.

“I don’t think it’ll be ’18. I don’t think we’re ready,” Mark Waller, the NFL’s executive vice president for international, told MMQB’s Albert Breer.

Apart from the obvious logistical issues — Beijing is a 12-hour time difference from the U.S. East Coast and 15 hours ahead of the West Coast — Waller told Breer that the league does not want to simply play a one-off game in China without first growing interest in the sport. Last September, the NFL found that only 500,000 people in China — population 1.4 billion — consistently watch NFL games online, according to Breer.

But the slowdown in regards to the league’s China plans doesn’t mean the NFL has stopped thinking about global expansion. The Ravens and Jaguars kick off the league’s annual London slate on Sunday, one of a record four games to be played there this season, and anytime teams take the field in London the subject of a permanent London-based squad comes up. There are obviously logistical issues involving travel and time differences with that, too, but Waller has an idea for next season that could test a team’s ability to compete from such a far-away base.

“The one thing we can’t show yet: can a team be competitive week in and week out?” he said, via Breer. “That’s why I’d like to do back-to-back weeks with the same team [next year], to get real sense of how that works. We’ll try to make that happen.”

The thought that an NFL owner would play two straight games in England to further the league’s London goals seems far-fetched, but I’m going to guess that the NFL would make it worth their while, if league executives truly wanted it to happen. And if the plan is still to have a permanent London team in place by 2022 — Waller told Breer that “it’s still a realistic time frame” — then the league better get moving.

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