'London Rams' may entice NFL fans in Europe

Brian Skidmore, fan of the St. Louis Rams, shows off his Rams logo tattoo in New York City. The prospect of a London Rams team doesn't seem too out of the question these days.


CORRECTION: The original version of this story incompletely described Arsenal's use of Wembley Stadium. The team has played there, but its home is Emirates Stadium. The text has been corrected.

Kai Ryssdal: There are a couple of big football games this weekend: The Giants will be in San Francisco to take on the 49ers, Baltimore goes to New England to take on the Patriots. Winners go to the Super Bowl.

We, though, are going to talk about the losers. The St. Louis Rams had a truly awful 2-and-14 season this year. Which makes them the perfect pick for a big splashy marketing deal with international economic implications, right?

The guy who owns the Rams, Stan Kroenke, also owns the British soccer club Arsenal, which occasionally plays at Wembley Stadium. The news is that the Rams have signed on to be the 'home' team at Wembley for good old American football. For the next three years, they'll play one of their 16 regular-season games in London.

Do you suppose there's really a market for the "London Rams"? We asked Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman to find out.

Mitchell Hartman: There is one guy in the world who’s the reason I know anything at all about football — because he was the quarterback in our daily pickup games after school in sixth grade. Geoffrey Kittredge now lives in London, where he’s a corporate lawyer. I reached him by cell phone and it turns out he’s already been to one of these NFL games at Wembley, back in 2009 — Tampa Bay against New England. He says he’ll definitely try to see the Rams next time. But he also thinks the NFL will have a tough time getting Brits interested. They’re used to fast-paced soccer games.

Geoffrey Kittredge: Football has much more standing around, huddling. And the English fans quickly start scanning around with their binoculars along the sidelines, to look at the cheerleaders, the coaching.

Now, keep in mind — London’s got a few hundred thousand Americans, who can help fill a stadium once a year no problem.

But Patrick Rishe, a sports economist at Webster University in St. Louis, says attracting more British fans, or even trying to put an NFL team in England permanently, will be harder. For one thing, football doesn’t have an easy way to reach Europeans on TV, because it’s not an Olympic sport. Plus:

Patrick Rishe: One of the other things that the other team sports—hockey, baseball, basketball—have is tons of international guys competing in professional leagues here in the States. So I think if you don’t have that it’s harder to sell.

Rishe says another game’s being played here, too. The Rams are looking for a new stadium. Playing one home game — in London — could be a way to put pressure on city officials in St. Louis.

I’m Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.
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Of course the "THFC" in Louise's name stands for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, or the other big North London football. Spurs fans will always say that Arsenal is on the "slide" but they will need to see Arsenal finish below them in the league for at least 12 years and miss out on Champion's league for at least as long before that's any more than a joke. At any rate it hasn't been mentioned that Arsenal's actual stadium is The Emirates. Frankly that error from a great show such as Marketplace is a shocker.

Hi Kai. Wembley is not the home of Arsenal. The stadium is used for international games and special events. (They used it for some games in the late 90s but they don't play there much lately because they are on the slide.) Cheers, Louise

Arsenal don't use Wembley because a) they only used if for Champions League (intra-European championship) matches; and b) they built a state-of-the-art stadium that brings in a great deal of income, which is much preferable to paying someone else for use of their facility. It's difficult to see this as a sign of their decline - unless the largest sponsorship deal in English football history for its construction can be seen as "a slide" in comparison with playing at Highbury.

You're on the slide. Look at your league position. Your best players are leaving for big clubs. If you didn't have Robin van Persie left you'd be bang in trouble. At the rate you're going you won't qualify for the Champions League next year. I'll let Kai do the numbers on that massive loss of revenue while I dust off Etta James's rendition of "Misty." Mind the Gap, Louise

Correction: Arsenal play their home matches at Emirates Stadium in London. Wembley is also in London but it's not the home of any Premier League club. Clearly there are no soccer fans on the Marketplace staff!

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