The NFL has tried for many years to establish itself in other countries, particularly in Mexico and England. There has even been talk in recent years about the long-term potential of there being an NFL franchise based in London, whether it represents an entirely new franchise or an existing one that moves there. The Jacksonville Jaguars previously had some interest.
In order for that to be viable, though, they need to have more traction in the country, and to that end, they are trying to further their imprint there year after year, recently scheduling what I believe is now up to four games played overseas per season. The Pittsburgh Steelers, for example, played in England in 2013.
The league just announced a new initiative that it is easy to read as yet another way to further their brand with the English. Dubbed the NFL Academy, the NFL will partner with Barnet and Southgate College in north London to provide educational and career opportunities for student athletes between the ages of 16 and 18.
And Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was named as one of the league ambassadors involved with the project. Among others are Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and former New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who was born in London.
“The NFL Academy gives aspiring young American football players or outstanding athletes the chance to develop their skills and knowledge of the game, while also achieving a full-time education”, said Darren Mepham, the CEO of the affiliated college. And to be clear, when he says “American football players”, he means English players of American football.
“Those aged between 16 and 18 years old are eligible to trial with an aim to enroll on a BTEC Level 1, 2 or 3 course, a BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma, NVQ Level 2 Coaching, YMCA Personal Training course or an A Level study package”, he went on. “It really is a fantastic opportunity for young people to be able to take a step towards achieving their sporting dreams”.
The ultimate end game as part of this project is the potential opportunity for some of these students to actually earn scholarships to participate in an NCAA program as a student athlete as he goes off to college, which would give him much better preparation for the possibility of making it to the NFL.
Short of having a team to root for, the best way to get the attention of the English is to give them some English players to root for. If this academy and produce a few NFL players, that would go a long way toward making football in England a much more realistic possibility in the future.