‘London Rams’ may entice NFL fans in Europe

Mitchell Hartman Jan 20, 2012


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.

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