With the NFL seemingly hell-bent on expanding into London at some point down the road, I thought it would be interesting to get the perspective of the NFL experience in London from some friends who recently made the trip to watch the Niners take on the Jaguars. Would they recommend the trip to other fans whose team will make the trip in the coming years? Is London ready for a NFL franchise?
Although my initial request for a write-up from a long time friend yielded a response of "I was pretty blacked out", long time Niner fan and friend ,Scott Porter, stepped up with a solid review and some great photos of what the experience is like. Many thanks to him and many thanks to our friends in the UK for letting my friends visit AND return without major incident.
1) Have you been to London before and did that play a role on planning a trip to attend the game?
I hadn't been to London before, and neither had most of the group of 8 of us that traveled to London. The planning for this trip began back in April when one member said “we are going, and I’ll get an apartment for people to stay in while we are there”. Plane tickets were purchased in April, game day tickets (for 9) were purchased in May, and then we figured out accommodations as we got closer.
2) If this was Niners team of 5-6 years ago (a bad team) would you make this type of trip?
I do think we would have made the trip in years past, but the fact is that the group was all in a lot better place financially was the main reason everyone was able to commit to this. Since we committed 5-6 months prior to the game, it allowed people to save up, and pay for certain things ahead of time and spread out the cost (airplane, and game day tickets). We had discussed going to London 3 year ago (when Troy Smith was QB!), and even earlier (when it was an actual 49ers home game – forgot the opponent). All the pieces just fell into place this year.
3) Ballpark cost for a fan who wants to make the trip to London? Would you recommend it to fans who have a game in London in the coming years?
Depending on when you get your tickets (plane, gameday, hotel, etc….) and whom you use (expedia, or other online methods) the costs were as follows:
1. Plane (5 months ahead and Economy Plus from San Francisco to Heathrow round trip) - ~$1,250 (Scott would later add that their flight got cancelled and they had to wait about 10 hours for another flight. Sounds like an awful day)
2. Hotel (note: we bailed on the apartment idea when we expanded from 4 people to 8. Everyone wanted their own bed, and didn't want to have to clean up after themselves) - $225 for 2 twin bed hotel room. If you ‘pay ahead of time’ they will knock 7-10% off your bill. Other options are hostels. That would knock the cost down dramatically.
3. Wembley game day tickets - $225-$250 upper deck. (Cost was more for 4 together, and 5 seats together. The face value of the tickets were actually 35 ₤, which was around $50!). NOTE: If/When I do this again, I found out that the NFL was selling BOTH games this years in a package deal for 90 ₤(Pitt vs Minn, and Niners vs Jags). We should have gotten both games, then resold the Pitt/Minn game tickets online, and would have made a killing. We bought our tickets on Viagogo.com, which is the StubHub of Europe.
4. Transportation on the London Underground to Wembley – Around 8-10 ₤ per day. We bought an Oyster Cards and got a ‘weekly pass’ for 34 ₤ for 7 days. This allowed you to travel anywhere between Zones 1 and 2, as much as you wanted. HIGHLY recommend getting the Oyster Card. It looks just like a credit card (same size, plastic) and you just hold it to a sensor and walk right it. Much better then fumbling with paper (think BART or NY Subway). The London Underground is by far the best public transportation I have ever been on. You can get pretty much anywhere. I never needed a cab the entire time I was in London (unless you go clubbing! Underground closes before the clubs do!)
5. Beers – 4-5₤ per brew, which translated to $5-7 brews (these are Pub costs, not exclusive club prices. Those could get ridiculous). There also is NO TIPPING in London! Loved that.
6. Food – ‘Pub food’ was anywhere from 8-12₤for burgers, fish and chips (The CodFather!) and other assorted items. Definitely go to restaurants instead of Pubs for food, if you can. Indian food is excellent, so was Italian and French food. ZERO Mexican food to speak of that I felt was worth anything. NOTE: If you like spicy food, go to an Indian joint, otherwise BRING YOUR OWN HOTSAUCE! No Tabasco, Cholula, Tapatio to speak of.
7. ATM’s – There are ATM’s everywhere, but try to go to one that looked ‘reputable’. There were also ATM’s that didn’t charge fees. There were some shady places, and almost every one of the members of our group had to speak with their bank during the trip. Make sure to call your bank and credit card company ahead of time, to avoid these issues.
8. All in all for the fact I stayed 9 days it will be easily in the 3-5k cost for me. Including hotel, airplane, gameday tickets, etc…. I still need to add it all up. Another issue is that the English ₤ to American $ is bullshit. $0.64 to 1 ₤ It is going to end up being an expensive trip. We could have made it a lot cheaper need be (keep in mind I also went to 2 Arsenal soccer games, did all the tourist sites, etc…)
4) In the days leading up to the game, how aware/excited are locals about the NFL's presence?
Leading up to the game, London didn't know too much about the game or really seem to care. There were signs hung up on Regent Street, and they were promoting a ‘tailgate’ at Trafalgar Square for 40k people (we didn't get to go to this). There was a group of 6-10 Jaguar fans, which were obviously people from London who were paid to dress up as football players (pads, jerseys, helmets, etc…) and they were blowing whistles, handing out flyers for the game, throwing a football around, etc… We saw them all over London. To their credit, anytime they saw a Jaguars fan the group went crazy! It was actually kind of fun messing with them. One of the guys in our groups asked to play catch with the football, and the ‘Jag’s Fan’ couldn't throw a spiral to save his life.
On gameday it was a different matter. There were a ton of people in every single NFL football jersey you could think of! We actually made it into a drinking game. ‘Find the Bears fan!’ The tailgate at Wembley was pretty sweet. Not a typical Candlestick tailgate with cars and BBQ’s, but more like a really really large street fair with Beer Gardens, Food Truck’s, etc…
5) Tell us about the crowd? Lively/knowledgeable? Mostly Brits or mostly Americans? Arrive early and leave late or did it thin out at times?
Pretty much everyone stayed till the end. The crowd was silent compared to a Candlestick game. The 49ers fans were by far the loudest and most prominent (40% of the people there were wearing 49ers jerseys, while ~5% were wearing Jags jerseys). The fans were mostly Brits, or other people across Europe. We did run into quite a lot of 49ers fans, but there weren't from SF.
6) How is Wembley stadium as a football stadium? How is it for transportation and pre gaming experience?
Wembley is pretty impressive! I really like the ‘overhanging roof’ (think the old Cowboys stadium). You were in no danger of getting rained on. Great sound system, and big screens to see replays. The London Underground was very easy to use to get to the game, no issues at all getting in. Super simple. Getting out of the game was much different. There were 89k fans at the game, I would say at least 80k of them took the Underground. It took us 1 hour to get back to London (but if you compare that to driving out of Candlestick, it is really not that bad, and again ‘no driving’).
There weren't any cup holders in any of the stadiums we went three total (also went to the Emirates Stadium for an Arsenal Game, and Crystal Palace for a second Arsenal game). We found out that this was a standard in Europe. They made an exception for this game, but you aren’t normally allowed to drink beer at your seats. If you wanted a beer you had to go and drink it on the cat walk. It made it was a lot less dirty and smelly environment, and less confrontations with fans (even though there were ZERO fights at this game, not like a Niners game). I would assume it make it easier to clean the stadium as well.
7) From what you took in before, during, and after the game, is London ready for a NFL franchise? Will they embrace the team in terms of attendance and television?
NO WAY! I do think that could expand the number of International games there to 4-6, maybe even up to 8 one year with varying home teams. I don’t like the idea of sacrificing a home game to have one in London, but it was a really fun time, and I think London would embrace more and more over time. The stadium was almost sold out (over 89k fans) and I could only see that staying the same.
8) Did the Brits have a good feel for the NFL as a whole (who is good/bad, where we are in the season, rules, players)?
I do think that the Brits knew that the 49ers were good, and that the Jags weren't good. Especially when we made the correlation that the 49ers were like a top 4 team in the English Premier League and that the Jags were more like a team in the second division that should have been relegated last year. I would say that all in all the fans didn't know ‘all of the’ Rules, players, etc…. but they did seem to know what was going on. They kept saying, “this game is so slow”, when compared to a soccer game which has a running clock, I really have to agree. TV time outs suck.
9) Do you think a London franchise could attract free agents? What would drafted or signed players miss most if they had to play overseas?
I think that a London Franchise could attract free agents depending on a couple things. Would they get paid in English ₤‘s or American $’s? And how would they be taxed? The conversion rate it RIDICULOUS! 1₤is equal to $1.60! You could also be the face of a franchise and get all the local advertising dollars.
The players would miss the food, but I am sure that they could find a way around that. Another things they would miss is watching other NFL games! The morning games start at 5-6 pm, and the afternoon games start at 8-9pm. The ‘night game’ starts at 1 am the next day! That might make it difficult for teams to scout opponents, etc… (hadn't really ever thought about that before, but I am sure someone has).
10) Funniest thing related to the game that happened?
In the tailgate there were many priceless things:
1. We ran into a fan wearing a shirt with Joe Buck on the front which said “Joe Buck ate my hamster!” He said ‘I don’t even know what it means’, and neither did we! We had a really good laugh at that one.
2. The ‘rubgy fans’ in the crowd, grabbed a football and started playing ‘street rugby’. It was classic. We thought it was people play three-flys-up at first, then they broke into a scrum.
3. The porta-pottys were classic. They had ‘outdoor’ ones where you just walk up and piss into a plastic sink. The funny part is that it was double sided and there is a guy staring looking right at you, directly across from you! You just trying not to make eye contact. Classic.
4. They played a game where people spun themselves around a bat, to get dizzy, and then someone would throw them a football (on an elevated field). One time a guys went to catch the pass, and fell right of the stage on the concrete, while all of the event was being shown on the big screen. BIG LAUGHS!
5. Lastly, when the 49ers broke out the trick play on the second play of the game. That gave all of the 49ers fans a huge laugh. It was like the big brother picking on the little brother who was too small and young to get what was happening. We explained what happened to a Brit fan and they said “They did that already?”
There you have it. Everything you need to know about the NFL experience on London. Scott would later add that he got everything out of the 9 days he spent in London but would consider going back next year if the Niners would play the Raiders. Also something fun to consider is that gambling on the NFL is legal and easy to do in London! Sounds like a good time but I don't know if a game against the Jaguars is an enticing enough carrot to dangle in front of most NFL fans. Then again if you promised to take a significant other, boom feed 2 birds with 1 hand (isn't that nicer than killing birds?).
@Bromancing Belichick If all the fans attending the games are from the States, this might be a mirage. By "from the States" I mean people who actually flying in from North America. If most of the fans attending the games are living in London---even if they are American or Canadian expatriates, then there is a chance it could work. The tricky part is going to be the time difference. The way I see this would work out is that the London team would have to two extra practice facilities. One would be near London for the benefit of the visiting opponents. (Teams are going to have to fly early in the week to get used to the time difference.) The second would be in the United States for when the London team goes on a road trip. Rather than fly back to the UK after playing the Cowboys in Arlington and then returning to the U.S. to play the Jets, the London team would go to some place in the U.S. where they can hold practices and watch film. Then they fly back home to London only when they are about to play a stretch of games at home.
If the real reason the NFL wants to have a London team is for an excuse to have the Super Bowl there, why not just put the Super Bowl there? I think it's stupid that the NFL has a rule stating that the Super Bowl can only be played where there is an NFL franchise, because not all cities are going to be great hosts for the Super Bowl even if they have the stadium and the weather. I can see the NFL putting the Super Bowl at Lambeau Field, but is Green Bay, Wisconsin the place where you would want to have the corporate sponsors and big fat cats have their party? (For die hard football fans who know their history, Lambeau would be perfect.) Do we really need the Super Bowl in Jacksonville, Indianapolis, or Minneapolis solely to justify the expense of building their stadia with tax money to city and state legislatures? Anyway, if there is a Super Bowl in London the NFL has some hard questions. To you have the game time at 1 PM EST (which would be 6 PM GMT in London) and give up millions of dollars in advertizing revenue from the commercials that lead up to the game? Or do you have it at the same time it's been since the 90's which is 6 PM EST even though that is VERY inconvenient for the locals, which is 11PM GMT? People in London will stay up that late to see England in the World Cup in Asia, but not to see an NFL game, especially the day before a work night? Of course if NBC were broadcasting the Super Bowl, they would probably have the game start at 1 PM EST and then tape-delay the radio and TV coverage until 6 PM like they do with the Olympics.
Long term, if the NFL wants a franchise in London and they want it to survive, then that team needs company, which means another team in Europe that is a short flight from Heathrow. Before the NFL disbanded the league, all the NFL Europe successful franchises were in Germany. I know that because of the language barrier, London is easier for the American tourist but if I were a German (American) football fan I would be annoyed at the effort the NFL is making to put a team in English-speaking London while ignoring the most successful European market for their product. If the NFL decides to go to Europe and that London needs a neighbo(u)r on the Continent to help it survive, that second team should be in Germany.