London’s Wembley Stadium was host to an NFL match last Sunday during which 84,000 people sat through a match between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Buffalo Bills. The two teams aren’t the best ambassadors of the NFL, but the British audiences seem to have enjoyed themselves tremendously in spite of that fact. The NFL must have actually been quite surprised at being able to fill out Wembley Stadium considering that the British don’t really enjoy American football.
The NFL might even consider a franchise in London if it is convinced about the long term sustainability in this market. However, the question that is on most people’s minds is whether the NFL will change its position on sports betting. It stands side by side with all other American sporting leagues in opposing sports betting vehemently. However, sports betting is so ubiquitous in the United Kingdom that it is impossible to avoid betting shops, some of which are located right outside the venue where the NFL teams were playing.
The British and Europeans do not share the American opposition to sports betting and in fact they choose to keep it legal so that it can be monitored and regulated. Visitors from the United States are stunned to see how easy it is to place bets on sporting events here. What they find even more shocking is that the British bookies take bets on all American sporting events, including NFL, NBA, NHL and even college matches, something that they are not allowed to do in their own country.
American sports was beset by a number of match fixing scandals in the 1940s and 1950s and their negative impact lasts to this day in the sporting establishment’s opposition to gambling. Therefore, while it is easy to understand the reason for the NFL’s stand on this issue, one wonders why they do not choose to change with the times?
The NFL’s wholehearted support of daily fantasy sports betting has raised many eyebrows on both sides of the Atlantic because many people simply do not see how this is different from sports betting. In fact, most people say that the NFL is being hypocritical on this subject since it earns huge profits from its association with daily fantasy sports operators. The fantasy sports industry uses the convenient fig leaf of an outdated law to claim that it is legitimate, but there are growing concerns about the way in which it continues to operate without government regulation.
NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy did not come out firmly against sports betting in the United Kingdom saying that it was a part of the local sporting culture. He also said that since local laws permitted sports betting the NFL would not oppose it in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, the daily fantasy business in the US is headed for a rough patch since Nevada has just declared it to be gambling and New Jersey is likely to do the same. This will require fantasy sports operators to take out gaming licences and be regulated like any other gambling operation.
So, it will definitely be interesting to see how long the NFL will maintain its stance on gambling!