It has been made official by the National Football League that their de facto minor league, the World League… no, NFL Europa, will be folding, effective immediately. How you feel about this probably runs the gamut from vaguely concerned to disinterested, and I can understand your lack of sentiment.
The NFL originally gave birth to the World League of American Football, a rather hodge-podge league that was partially backed by the NFL and partially based in the United States. There were all sorts of interesting things about this league: 10 teams divided into three divisions; a "West Division" consisting of Sacramento, San Antonio, and Birmingham; and two unique rules – one assigning ascending point values to field goals based on distance, and another requiring one non-U.S born player on each of your squads (offense, defense, and special teams). This incarnation was so successful that it lasted a whopping two years before going under to fix the… kinks.
The team ditched its US base and came back wholly European, by keeping the teams that were already based in Barcelona, London, and Frankfurt, while adding franchises in Dusseldorf, Amsterdam, and Edinburgh. However, ratings and fan bases outside of Germany continued to flag, so in 1997, the league took bold new steps: the teams in London and Edinburgh would now play their home games in multiple stadiums within the country, and it would now become NFL Europe.
After that, nothing would remain the same for long. The London Monarchs were shut down after 1998 and replaced with a team in Berlin. Then in 2003, the Barcelona Dragons and Scottish Claymores (the Edinburgh team) both folded and were replaced with a team in Cologne in 2004 and another in Hamburg in 2005.
Now it was the fall of 2005, and the league had changed significantly since its first inception. Now the NFL had what was touted as a European spring league, a place for young players to grow and develop, when what they really had was a league that had minimal presence or relevance outside of Germany where players went to live out their careers.
The league suffered another blow in 2006, when the league was forced to start and end the season a month earlier than usual due to the 2006 FIFA World Cup being played in the home stadiums of four of the five teams in the league. Between the shift in schedule, and most Europeans caring more about the round ball than the oblong one, the league saw another drop in already low attendance numbers.
Their past offseason move to once again rename the league, this time to NFL Europa, was a lot like that time your girlfriend ripped all your posters of hot chicks off your walls in a fit of rage, then tried to apologize and re-tape them back up a week later.
The NFL announced that the league had continued to lose money, to the tune of $30 million this past season – which should really come as no surprise to anyone who saw that the peak year for attendance, the league as a whole only averaged 19,000 fans per game.
This league suffered a lot of the same maladies that a number of struggling major US franchises suffer from: they couldn't decide what they wanted to be, and accordingly never committed. They never committed the money to promote or support the product they already had, nor did they commit the time and resources to develop the product further. The one remaining question now is, what happens to all those players who worked hard every day for their pseudo-homes for football? Perhaps they'll drift off into oblivion as well.Powered by Sidelines