AMERICAN FOOTBALL NORTHERN LEAGUE (AFNL)
This is a global American Football league comprising teams from 10 Northern Hemisphere countries. It should ideally be owned and operated as a foreign subsidiary of the NFL. See "Full Description" for details.
As an individual from, of all countries, South Africa, I don’t claim to have much knowledge of the sport of American Football (I’ll call it AF for short). Nevertheless, I want to use the medium of the internet to pose an idea to the NFL. As the richest and most powerful entity in the world of AF only the NFL could make such a concept a reality.
Some years ago, the NFL’s European venture, NFL Europa, folded. For whatever reason that occurred, it doesn’t matter. But there is something to consider. As big and rich a market as Europe is, why did the NFL believe that it was fertile ground for AF? Firstly, Europe is already dominated by two entrenched major codes of football – soccer and rugby. How much of a market remains for AF to exploit? Secondly, while the Superbowl may be America’s biggest sporting event (further popularized by American movies and tv), AF hardly has as much impact in Europe as, say, NBA basketball or NHL ice-hockey (in East Europe) do. Thirdly, by featuring multiple teams from individual countries (what, five teams from Germany alone?) the already small support-base was spread even thinner and whatever interest there was in it, waned. This on top of the fact that it’s a sport that’s pretty much niche everywhere outside North America.
So NFL Europa had all the ingredients for non-success. What about outside Europe? There are large markets that the NFL could exploit in theory but reality suggests otherwise. Of the big North American team-sports, Japan has picked its preference, baseball, and China has picked its preference, basketball. Russia and East Europe have long been strongholds for ice-hockey. As such, these countries provide sizeable foreign support-bases for MLB, the NBA and the NHL. In which foreign country could the NFL claim as much? The arrival and rise of pop-culture icon David Beckham [and whoever may follow him to the MLS] means that soccer, rather than AF, may now be the code of football in the US that attracts the most foreign attention. But this isn’t so bad, is it? America is big and rich enough to sustain AF all on its own. It may even be proud of the fact that AF is an [almost] distinctly American game and all the better to keep it in and for America, right?
I beg to differ. I think that there is a plausible way to develop a sizeable global support-base for AF without interfering with the American game. It requires some strategic thinking. Rather than mince words, let me just get into it.
Firstly, suitable markets must be identified. These markets need to be both populous and have economies large enough to sustain even a niche game successfully. They must also be countries where a game as rough as AF could plausibly be embraced. I think this rules out a country such as India, which has rejected even the much tamer code of rugby due to its extreme physicality. I would pick 8 Northern-Hemisphere countries for what I’m proposing. They are United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Russia, China, South Korea and Japan. To these I would add the USA and Canada. Together, these 8 nations would form the basis of a new international, northern hemisphere-based AF league to be known as the American Football Northern League (AFNL).
Each of these 10 countries would field a single league-specific team. Those teams would be quasi-national in two senses. Firstly, they would be their respective countries’ sole representative in the league hence they’d effectively be the national team of the country in which they’re based. Secondly, whereas each team should field squads made up of their own country’s nationals, it is more than likely that outside North America, the standard of AF is pretty low. Therefore, each team should be allowed to field a small number of foreign players (probably from North America).
Each team would be named after the country they’re based in and would also carry a moniker. For originality, I would suggest that in some of the team names, the moniker precedes the home-name. For example, the NFL team that you call Washington Redskins, I would call Redskins Washington. These are my proposed names for the 10 AFNL teams. As you can see, the monikers are in some way related to the respective teams:
Gridiron America (USA)
Prairies Canada (Canada)
UK Union Jacks (United Kingdom)
Matador Espania (Spain)
German Kaizers (Germany)
Russia Kremlins (Russia)
Bastille France (France)
Yakuza Japan (Japan)
Orient China (China)
DMZ Korea (South Korea)
By having one team per country, those teams effectively take on the mantle of a national team thus drawing substantially more interest than a niche game like AF draws when played amongst domestic clubs in countries in which the game is small. For example, seeing that cycling is a relatively small sport in America, I can’t imagine that millions of Americans would be glued to their tv screens to watch the domestic cycling events in the USA. But I have no doubt that millions of Americans tuned in to watch Lance Armstrong over those seven years that he “owned” the Tour-de-France. This is due both to the fact that Armstrong was effectively (though not officially) representing the US and to the context he was competing in i.e a major event such as the Tour-de-France.
Furthermore, the significance of traditional national rivalries should not be underestimated, even despite the fact that AF is not a major game in any of these countries except the US and Canada. A good example of this was 2002 FIFA World Cup soccer match between the USA (a country with mediocre interest in soccer) and Iran (a soccer middle-power). Millions of American, Iranian and global viewers tuned in to watch a game that otherwise was no major fixture but took on an air of major interest due to the political rivalry between America and Iran. Based on this, some of the AFNL games look probable to draw huge number of tv viewers : the games in which the American team plays against teams from traditional rivals such as Canada, Russia and China or the game between the Korean and Japanese teams, etc are examples of these.
I get that AF will still probably remain niche in these countries but these countries have a combined economy of over $32 trillion and a combined population of about 2,3 billion. Taking into consideration these things along with the context in which the AFNL exists, even a niche share of such a market would be enough to make the AFNL not just commercially-sustainable but commercially-successful too!
RELATION TO THE NFL
The AFNL would be owned and operated by the NFL as a sort of foreign subsidiary. The AFNL season could be scheduled so as not to clash with the NFL season. The AFNL would serve multiple purposes. It would function as a league in its own right, popularizing AF globally. It would create a parallel revenue-stream for the NFL. And by attracting new fans to the sport of AF, it would eventually draw those fans (read: millions of new global tv-viewers) to the world’s preponderant AF league, the NFL! Why “should” the NFL create the AFNL? Why “shouldn’t” it?
FORMAT AND SCHEDULE
The AFNL would be staged annually in the non-NFL season. Each team would play each other team twice annually (i.e. once at home and once away). This means that the regular-season of the AFNL comprises 18 games-per-team and 90 games in total. The top four regular-season-log finishers contest two-leg (i.e.home-and-away) semifinals (viz. 1st vs 4th and 2nd vs 3rd). And the semifinal winners contest a one-off Final, hosted by whichever of the two teams finished higher on the regular-season log.
Hence, an AFNL season comprises 90 regular-season games + 5 post-season games = 95 games.
Games would be played on a weekly basis, preferably on weekends.
REMUNERATION FOR PLAYERS
It is very unlikely that the AFNL’s standard of play would be as high as that of the NFL. Nor would its commercial value be as high as that of the latter. As such, salaries cannot be expected to be as high as that of the NFL either. A salary-cap of $250 000 seems quite reasonable (and even that amount would be a rare figure paid to just a handful of really top-notch AFNL players). Notwithstanding the amount of travel involved (and that can be counted as a free holiday anyway!), playing just 18-21 games-per-season, no player can be expected to earn NFL-like income in a league which would in all probability be quite some way below NFL standards. An average salary of $100 000 is not bad at all. Squads can be capped at 40 players.
The AFNL is an ideal and plausible way to globalize AF and boost the coffers of the NFL. Whereas the NFL doesn’t have any large single or regional market overseas, if it could capture small-but-significant shares in each market of a specific bloc of countries, the aggregate could be something quite sizeable indeed. That “bloc” is the bloc of countries that are represented in the AFNL!
I hope that someone in the NFL brass reads this and responds – whether positively or negatively!
Problem this idea/invention addresses:
Of the Big 4 american team sports, only American Football (AF) does not have a sizeable overseas market and fan-base. This concept would seek to change that in a very plausible manner.
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