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The complex logistics of playing in London

Reacting to a FanPost, which reacted to Andrew Whitworth's comments, we wanted to really look at the problems players could face when playing in London.


A fairly interesting topic was created over the weekend in the FanPosts that reacted to Andrew Whitworth's comments about playing an NFL game in London. Earlier this month, Whitworth told the Cincinnati Enquirer:

"I would hope that I was financially able to quit," Whitworth said. "That’s what I would hope because if I was my papers would be the first one in."

"I don’t see that a lot of guys would want to do that," he said. "I don’t see any players that would enjoy that. Sure, you may find a handful of guys that say, ‘Oh hey, that’d be cool,’ but the rest of them wouldn’t."

"I would hate it, but it is what it is," he said. "But, one time it’s not fun but you got to do what you got to do. But I wouldn’t enjoy that, either."

Reading through the comments (most of them are pretty good), I was interested about the whole logistics on playing an actual game in London.

For the past five years London has hosted a regular season game as part of the NFL International Series. Mexico City actually held the first game in 2005 between the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals. The NFL announced that two games will be played in London this year. The first, on September 29, will be between the Steelers and Vikings. The second between the San Francisco 49ers and Jacksonville Jaguars. Jacksonville is also scheduled to play one game every year from 2013 through 2016.

London isn't the only international game played annually. The Buffalo Bills play have been playing one regular season game at Rogers Centre in Toronto since 2008 (they're 1-4).

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who recently lost a Super Bowl ring to the shirtless bear-wrestling Russian President Vladimir Putin, openly supported a franchise in London during a press conference prior to the Patriots drubbing of the St. Louis Rams.

"You're already hosting the Premier League, and we believe we're the premier sport in the world," Kraft said. "I think London has shown, with the way they've handled the Olympics and every other major sporting event, that it's time for you to have your own NFL franchise, based in London."

"As these things develop and there's a permanent home team now, I'm sure they'll develop a great following," Kraft said. "Whatever we can do to cultivate playing football throughout the world. ... We've been discussing that the NFL, I don't know if we've done as good a job as we could educating the rest of the world on what a great game it is."

John Madden isn't convinced that a franchise in London is a good idea.

"There’s some problems that go with that and the biggest one is families moving there, citizenship, tax consequences and travel for the team," Madden told KCBS last November. "Imagine if you were a West Coast team and had to go to London. That would be like a 10-hour flight."

Other general concerns of placing a franchise in London range from free agency to taxation. We have a hard time believing that, if given the choice, that most NFL players would choose to play in London. Whatever franchise that exists across the pond figures to overpay for free agents. According to a KPMG report, the personal tax rates on $100,000, the United States comes in 55th out of 114 countries. The United Kingdom is 37th.

Even playing one game in London presents concerns.

One of the first things that Vikings general manager Rick Spielman was concerned about was the facilities. Considering that teams typically stay for a week, they needed places to practice while the team is worried about possible distractions with being in London.

"The NFL has done an unbelievable job over there making sure that the facilities are up to NFL standards, the practice fields are up to NFL standards," Spielman told the Star Tribune. "I was, wouldn’t say shocked, but very satisfied with what the NFL has done to make that experience over there. I think the biggest thing is as we go over to London, we want to make sure that it’s not a distraction, that we can keep it as normal a week as possible when the game preparation comes. But understanding also, that there will be some ancillary things you’ll have to deal with."

This is true for most teams. When the Broncos played in London in 2010, they converted an entire floor into rooms, meeting spaces, a training room and locker room. Hotel caterers were trained to prepare American food, replicating the meals that players traditionally ate before games. Additionally, Broncos staffers had to scout practice fields, both indoors and outdoors. Barges were sent over the Atlantic one month before the game was schedule, which included crates of Gatorade, snacks, foods, and IT equipment. Finally, the team had to coordinate passports for players, and that's presuming everyone is an American citizen.

Truth is, players themselves do not deal directly with much of the actual logistics. So we can't speak for Whitworth. Maybe it's just a matter of playing at home. Instead of practicing for a week and playing a game in London, teams practice at home, which is far more familiar. During away games, teams depart a day or two beforehand.