Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

Hitting the 'Ignore' Button on the NFL's Call to London

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Mark Cuban was right. The NFL is run by hogs.

"I'm just telling you: Pigs get fat,” the Dallas Mavericks owner said in March, reacting to the NFL expanding its Thursday night television package to include games broadcast on CBS. “Hogs get slaughtered. And they're getting hoggy.”

At the rate the NFL is looking to expand its global domination, the “hoggy” league could indeed be a decade away from a decline in popularity despite its current dominance, a theory Cuban floated last spring, and one that particularly deserves some note during a week in which we heard commissioner Roger Goodell and Patriots owner Bob Kraft chalk up blabber about why an NFL team in London is a good idea. Cuban’s words are more visionary than sour grapes from an NBA owner who doesn’t have the same toys.

"Just watch. Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered,” he said. “When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way. I'm just telling you, when you've got a good thing and you get greedy, it always, always, always, always, always turns on you. That's rule No. 1 of business.”

It’s no revelation that the NFL is already omnipresent in American lives, a fact that Goodell and his Merry Band of Owners seem intent on taking to the next level, force-feeding a Thursday night game on America, when the only-decent ratings haven’t really showed a clamoring need for it, a proposed 18-game season, and now, once again raising the issue of having a team overseas, which is just about as good an idea as it was to expand the league to Jacksonville.

No, it’s worse.

“We couldn't be happier with what we're seeing,” Goodell told reporters Thursday about the game’s annual excursions overseas. “We actually couldn't be more surprised by the tremendous demand for NFL football in London, in the UK in general, and frankly in Europe. So it's not something that I think is 15 or 20 years away. It could be five or 10 years away.”

Five years? Why are we wasting our time with this?

Logistically, an NFL team in London can work. The grueling travel isn’t really that much more difficult than hopping on a charter to Northern California. Not to mention…no, actually, that’s about it.

I’m sure the players’ association must be thrilled with the prospect of a team in London, where 53-plus of its members will be forced to live overseas, at least until they are mercifully released or are able to test the waters of free agency. You thought the Jaguars were the most-ignored NFL team outside of their home market? That indifference will be akin to a relative love-fest when the population gets its aloofness on a team (teams??) based in London.

"I can see the kind of reception we got there," Kraft said of New England's visit to the United Kingdom in 2012, according to "... I would not be disappointed, and I would also believe that we should work hard to try and have a franchise in London before the decade was out.”

Neat. John Henry’s Liverpool Football Club is in town this week to play AC Roma in a friendly at Fenway, and the game no doubt will receive positive attention around here. Maybe then Kraft would like to purchase an EPL club to play in America? Lord knows he’s worked wonders with the oft-ignored Revolution.

A few successful dates don’t necessarily make an intelligent marriage. The NFL’s greed may know no bounds, but at some point you figured that customs might have a say.

Who does an NFL team in London benefit the most? London? The NFL? The fans? The players? TV? Nope, only the owners, once again, in a league where power and money are in such great supply for a select few that it only makes more sense in their minds to pine for more, even at expense of the product that has made them all billionaires. Being a fan of a London NFL team will be like being a member of a bad cover band; the real thing barely even realizes that you exist, and even if it does, you're still an inferior imitation.

No disrespect to the fine city of London, but It will no doubt be the least-attractive destination for players, a franchise that might have to be the only team not to play under a salary cap, in that it would seriously limit their ability to attract even the most-open NFL player to think about uprooting to England. How well is your average 22-year-old rookie going to adjust not only to life in the NFL, but life in another culture entirely? That shouldn’t be too much to handle. As long as the owners’ pockets are lined with pounds they can show off to their friends.

Meanwhile, NFL fans in Los Angeles are in the background, raising their hands in the back of the class, only to be periodically called on by Teach Goodell and company.

“We would like to do that. We think there's a great opportunity to be successful (in Los Angeles). I think opportunity's starting to develop, maybe in part because we have that long-term planning in front of us.”

Said Kraft: "In the end, we want young people here branded to a team. I know that Roger and I and a number of the owners who care about the long-term health of the NFL feel it's very important for our future to have at least one -- if not two teams -- in downtown L.A."

Well, so much for not getting ahead of ourselves, I suppose. But let the record show that the country’s second-biggest television market has gone without an NFL team for 20 years now since the Raiders fled to Oakland. The 2002 expansion went to Houston instead of Los Angeles for whatever reason, and all we’ve heard since is how badly the City of Angels needs to have a team back. There’s really no disagreement here on that matter. But if you don’t even have a team in one of the country’s biggest media markets, how exactly can you justify how intelligent expanding your product overseas would be for the NFL?

A London franchise would quickly become a running joke, a bottom-feeder that will make the Detroit Lions look like a model for efficiency. The only question, really, is how many years will it taker Londoners to lose interest? Let’s set the over/under at five, shall we? Maybe L.A. can get the team when it is forced to relocate then?

London will see three regular-season games this year (Dolphins-Raiders, Lions-Falcons, and Cowboys-Jaguars). Isn’t that enough? Then again, it’s not really competitive balance the NFL is after these days. If it were, they’d be fine with a 16-game schedule and leaving the playoff structure - the highly-successful playoff structure - the way they are. But the owners want more. Always more.

"It's all football,” Cuban said. “At some point, the people get sick of it."

Cuban is right. That point is coming. But it isn’t this week.

Training camp opens Thursday in Foxborough. Darrelle Revis and all.

London? It has bad idea written all over it. But what’s a bad idea or two among billionaires?

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