Could the Tampa Bay Buccaneers move to London? Answer: no

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I don't really want to talk about this, because the answer is blindingly obvious, but it's a theme, because the Bucs are playing in London this week. A quick note on that article by Pro Football Talk: it's misleading, of course. It suggests that the British government wants to create a full-time NFL team, but that's just one MP commenting on it. Taking that comment as "the government wants to do something" is about as accurate as taking a comment by a random member of congress as "the White House wants to do something". British parliament is not the same as British government, and one member of parliament does not mean a whole lot. 

Of course, the NFL wants to expand internationally. This makes a lot of business sense: there are billions of potential sports fans outside the USA. The most valuable sports team in the world is Manchester United, and a large part of its dominant value is based on its truly international fanbase. Manchester United more than any other club in the world has created a worldwide brand, and they've been able to turn that into lots and lots of cash. The Glazers are aware of this, of course, as they've owned Manchester United throughout its recent international expansion as a brand. 

And that must also be part of the reason why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are heading overseas for the second time in three years. The Bucs have only sold out one game since the start of the 2010 season, and while there are a lot of good reasons for that and the Bucs certainly aren't the only team struggling to sell out its games, it's also something that has to worry ownership. Expanding the fanbase overseas is one way to help alleviate the financial pressures that come with a failure to sell out games consistently. 

If we look at all of that evidence, it sure looks like the Bucs would be a prime candidate to move to London. After all, the team is struggling to sell out games, its owners own a large sports franchise in the UK and the team is playing its second home game in three years in London. Who else would move there? 

The answer is: no one. There are many very obvious logistical issues with placing a team in London. From having teams travel across the ocean (especially west coast teams) to bringing in players for try-outs and interviews, it's not a very practical thing to do. Not right now, anyway, but technology could eventually overcome some of those issues. 

One of the issues that can't be easily overcome is legal in nature. Labor laws in the UK and the EU are very different from labor laws in the USA. I am fairly sure that the draft would never hold up in a European court of law as a valid way of allocating players, for instance. Nor would refusing entry for players who haven't been out of high school for at least three years. And I sincerely doubt the franchise tag, restricted free agency and other such mechanics would hold up. If the NFL places a team in the UK, it must be prepared to face many legal problems that could change the very core of the game. 

Then there's the issue of creating a fanbase there. There are plenty of people willing to go to one game of NFL football per year in London. Maybe there are even enough fans to do so for two games. But when you're talking about ten games in a season, including preseason games, that's another story. The NFL clearly falls behind soccer in popularity, and several other sports in each European country. There's a reason the NFL Europe failed, of course. 

But, let's assume for fun that somehow, some way the NFL finds a way to get past that and they have a viable plan to get a team situated in London in, say, ten years time. Could the Bucs then move there? 

The answer, again: nope. Yes, the Bucs are struggling to sell out games right now. But they had sold out every regular season game in Raymond James Stadium until 2010 (more likely 2009, but the Glazers were buying up the tickets at that point). Clearly the area isn't fundamentally wrong for football. But attendance is trending upwards: the Bucs reported paid attendance of 51,274 for the home opener against Detroit. In week three against the Falcons this was even worse: 46,995 was the announced paid attendance. But the Bucs sold out their week five home game against the Indianapolis Colts, and reported a paid attendance of 56,590 for the game against New Orleans. 

More importantly, the Buccaneers have a terrific stadium - and franchises move because of stadiums, not because of attendance. The Bucs don't just have a terrific stadium, one they just upgraded this offseason, they also have a ridiculously good stadium deal for NFL standards. Not only do they take home most of the game day revenue, they also take home most of the revenue on events that have nothing to do with the Bucs. Despite the fact that they do not own the stadium. The Bucs also built a state-of-the-art practice facility just five years ago. 

While it may superficially look like the Bucs are a prime candidate to move to London, once you dig deeper you see it's extremely unlikely the Bucs - or any team for that matter - will move to London. 

Now, could they give up more home games in the future to play in London? I can't answer that question. If the Bucs are committed to building an international fanbase, they certainly could. But if this was just a response to lackluster ticket sales, then they won't. Only time will tell on that one. 

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