By Steve Silverman
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Robert Kraft has been a successful NFL owner by all the ways it can be measured.
The New England Patriots won three Super Bowls under his ownership and they have been to three others. They have a state of the art stadium and have become one of the most popular teams in the league.
For a team that started life as the Boston Patriots in the old American Football League and played its games in cramped Fenway Park and then any other Boston facility that would allow them to play, it’s been a great run for Kraft.
He bought the team in 1994 and gave the team stability after previous ownership runs by colorful and laughable souls like Billy Sullivan and Victor Kiam, as well as a lout named James Orthwein who wanted to move the team to St. Louis.
Kraft refused to let that happen and became somewhat of a local hero. When he brought in Bill Belichick to coach the team and Tom Brady was drafted to play quarterback, the franchise turned a corner on the field. Kraft would quickly become a New England favorite.
Kraft has had a lot of productive and good ideas for the league and he is universally respected by the other NFL owners. But Kraft got his head out over his skis when he advocated the NFL putting a permanent franchise in London during an interview with Sky Sports reporter Neil Reynolds.
The idea of putting a team in London has to be abhorrent to nearly all NFL players and fans. Every year the NFL plays a game in London, and players have to change their practice schedule, alter their body clocks and play on a field that was designed for soccer. The British fans usually show up at old Wembley Stadium for the curiosity of watching super huge American football players knock each other around. While there are some British fans who actually love American football, most go for the spectacle of large men hitting each other hard.
That’s no basis to put a full-time team in London.
There are fans in the United States who love English Premier League Football. That doesn’t mean that the EPL is going to send a team to this country so it can play in New York, Washington or Philadelphia.
Kraft thinks that the NFL is about as popular as it can get in this country and that’s why the time is right to bring the game overseas on a full-time basis. He points to the Super Bowl television ratings and that basically two out of every three Americans watched the championship game. Once the market is that sated, there’s not much more room for growth.
Kraft was speaking on a promotional tour so he may have been giving into the moment and saying what he thought his audience wanted to hear.
If that’s the case, he should be above that and he shouldn’t be trying to curry favor from his potential customers with over-the-top statements. Kraft claims that his Patriots are the most popular of the American football teams in England. That’s a tough claim to substantiate. The Patriots may have a fan club in that country, but that doesn’t mean that they are truly popular.
It’s also disappointing that this is what’s on Kraft’s mind at what really is a critical time for the NFL. Is he not aware of the epidemic of brain injuries that is impacting so many former players? It seems like Kraft is more interested in figuring out future profit centers and not addressing the major safety issues impacting the game.
The competitive aspect of the game often flies out the window with overseas games. As much as coaches try to prepare for a London game the same way they prepare for a normal road game, it never works out that way. The food is strange, the beds are strange, the stadium is strange and the game is often played at a less-than-stellar level.
Business owners have a right to increase profit margins. But when everyone can see that a permanent team in London would make things worse for everyone but owners who would make more money, it’s a bad idea.
Kraft used to be a forward thinker. Now it seems he’s just another guy looking out for his own pocket book.
Should there be an NFL team in London? Be heard in the comments below…