LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s departure from the European Union will make it easier for London to have an NFL franchise by removing some of the legal obstacles, the head of the U.S. sport’s British-based operations said on Wednesday.
Alistair Kirkwood, managing director of NFL UK, said such a franchise was viable and realistic but with plenty of hurdles yet to overcome.
“The interesting thing about the decision to leave the EU, and I don’t want to get political whilst there’s loads of things that we don’t know, is that it actually makes a franchise in London easier to put up,” he said.
Kirkwood, speaking at a Sport Industry Breakfast Club meeting, pointed in particular to current EU-related issues with the NFL’s revenue-sharing model and drafting of players in a closed league.
Previous advice was that the NFL would be in breach of EU employment laws.
“If we were to put more than one (franchise in Europe), the contraventions would potentially be serious enough that we’d then have to change how we operate, which I don’t think is likely, or go back to the drawing board,” said Kirkwood.
“(Brexit) has definitely made an objective that is still quite complex to see how we actually get to it...a lot easier.”
There has been talk for years of the NFL, which is staging a record four games in London as part of its regular season starting this week, setting up a London franchise but it remains a distant dream.
Games have been played since 2007 at Wembley and Twickenham, with Premier League soccer club Tottenham Hotspur’s new home scheduled to replace the rugby venue next year.
The London Series matches start on Sept 24 with the Baltimore Ravens against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are playing a home game in London for the fifth consecutive season, at Wembley.
The New Orleans Saints play Miami Dolphins on Oct 1 before Twickenham hosts the Arizona Cardinals v Los Angeles Rams and the Minnesota Vikings v Cleveland Browns on Oct. 22 and 29 respectively.
After this year, 26 of the 32 teams will have played in London.
Kirkwood said the British fanbase had arguably reached a level required to support a franchise while Tottenham’s stadium has been designed with NFL in mind as well as soccer with locker rooms big enough for 53 players.
“We’re meeting pretty much on a weekly basis (with Tottenham). The stadium is looking brilliant. There does not appear to be a bad seat in the house,” he said.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Jon Boyle