NFL London: Not “If” or “When” but “How”, Part 1 of 3

The 2018 NFL London Series has been another resounding success. All three games that were featured this season sold out and the NFL was quick to announce four games slated for the 2019 series.

Since 2007 the NFL has made regular season games across the pond an annual spectacle. Given the success the league has enjoyed over there, the questions quickly devolve into will an NFL franchise call London home, and if so when? Obviously, the NFL wants in. Football dominates the American sports landscape and getting a foothold in a market as rich as London would exponentially grow the owners’ revenue shares.

But what will it take and what obstacles need to be cleared in order to make an NFL team in London a reality? This series of articles will delve into a bevy of issues the league will need to take into consideration including work visas, labor laws, and taxation. First up, work visas.

The current format of the London series works great from an immigration law perspective as teams are only playing one game overseas. The players are able to enter the country and compete under a temporary work visa, labeled as “sporting visitors”. However, this type of visa would not be available to a franchise that calls London home. Players would be required to obtain a more permanent work visa.

Where the challenge arises is the application process for that work visa. The application comes with a criminal background check and criminal convictions can result in denial. Convictions with a sentence of less than one year or fines can result in a player being denied a visa for five years from the end of the sentence. This could result in crippling roster implications for any London-based team.

We just saw last week four players from the Jacksonville Jaguars arrested in London while they were there for their game in the London series. Arrests are not exactly unchartered territory for the NFL and work visa applications could seriously restrict the players they could target in free agency or the draft.

Before the NFL moves into London, it is likely some serious lobbying will need to be done or assurances obtained to guard against work visa denials. The NFLPA would also have some serious concerns when it comes time to negotiate the next CBA. If a London team would even be prevented from showing interest in a free agent, that player’s worth on the open market can be prevented from achieving its maximum potential. It is one less team to drive up the sale price of a free agent which, in the long run, can affect other free agents value.

This is one major hurdle that stands in the NFL’s dream and it is likely the one they have the least control over.

Our next piece will touch on the labor issues involved, including collective bargaining requirements in the UK and the implications of Brexit on the NFL.

Photo Courtesy: The Inside Zone

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