It’s about money, of course, billions of dollars; and what the NFL is doing there is a bit reminiscent of another American institution, namely McDonald’s. NFL stands for “National Football League”, but that’s threefold misleading. The NFL is not a league, but ultimately a franchise company that installs branches where it is worthwhile. It’s not so much about football as it is about revenue, and only in the US are they long gone. A more apt description would be: Worldwide Money Printing Machine; WGM.
The interesting thing about it: Anyone who listens to Roger Goodell, head of the WGM – sorry, NFL of course – knows that he wouldn’t be so dissatisfied with this designation. Yes, it’s also about sport for him; but very often it’s about how to grow revenue from the current $17.1 billion a year, and what’s great about the NFL is that, unlike many other sports, it doesn’t even pretend it’s making money a necessary evil to fund the spectacle. It’s the whole point.
It’s all about the money, and that leads to McDonald’s: The group has always been a master at the art of opening up new locations for its branches, and that’s exactly why this NFL is coming to Munich. After numerous guest appearances in London (there are three this year) they are now trying it in Munich – and the medium-term goal is known: not just a branch in Europe, but a division with four teams; two in London, two on the mainland, if possible one of them in Germany. One might ask: Why? The NFL asks back: why not?
The franchises would have to travel to the United States for 26 games
“We’re looking at whether there are multiple locations for NFL franchises in Europe; a full division just makes more sense,” Goodell said recently, and it’s clear: Yes, we want to expand into Europe, but there are still a few there to clarify details; and these are not just the obvious ones, such as the fact that not only two teams like the Buccaneers and the Seahawks now come to Europe, including a time difference and an enormous logistical effort.
According to the current game plan, four teams would mean: All of them play each other twice per season, that is six of 17 games of the season. The European franchises would have to travel to the US for a total of 26 games; and US teams would come to Europe for a total of 26 games. As I said: logistically almost absurd, which Goodell believes is still worthwhile, because it also means: TV revenue from Europe through games at prime time.
More difficult, and that leads back to WGM: The NFL is not a league, it is not governed by any association. Anyone who has followed the scandals of recent years knows that it regulates itself, including legally; the collective agreement between the players and the league is considered the Bible, only the TV contracts are more important. The NFL doesn’t like to be talked into it, which is why it’s so successful financially.
Taxes, forced relocation, barter transactions – many questions arise
A few questions that show how complicated the expansion would be: There is a salary cap; if actors pay taxes on their salaries in Germany, would that be unfair because of the different net salaries? Clubs vote for talent at the talent fair – can you force a player to move to Europe or will the powerful players’ union sue? What about the strictly regulated barter transactions; could a football bosman sue in an EU court? And how is that actually shaping up in post-Brexit England?
These are the issues that need to be resolved, along with a few others: stadium funding, insurance, decision-making power over players’ legal issues, and so on. So there is still a lot to be done, and it can be heard from those close to the NFL owners that they are satisfied with the status quo – 32 clubs in the USA, guest appearances in other countries – at least until the collective agreement expires in 2030. Then you have to renegotiate.
So there is still time. If Goodell has shown one thing over the past few years, it’s this: he has his business under control, the NFL is a thriving company – or has anyone ever heard of an NFL franchise in financial troubles like European football clubs? Even. And when Goodell says “Why not?” asks, then he’ll go through with it, and he usually already has a plan. Like McDonald’s, which was already planning a branch in Russia in 1987 – and opened one in Moscow in January 1990.