For all intents and purposes, the NFL's London dream is dead.
Too many logistical problems. Too many unknowns. Too much red tape. And when you get down to it — even in the ultra-rich NFL ownership group — there’s nobody rich enough, hungry enough and ambitious enough to take the league’s most expensive gamble and go the distance with it.
Well, until now. Jeff Bezos is entering the arena, and his $200 billion in net worth (give or take $10 billion) might be the single best shot the league has to pull off the impossible fantasy. If the NFL ever wants to entertain an overseas franchise again, this is its opportunity.
It’s clear to everyone in the league that Bezos is coming. To borrow a term from Showtime’s "Billions," his opportunity to be knighted with an NFL franchise has arrived. Whether it’s purchasing the Denver Broncos in 2022 or another club in the future, he’s coming.
As a league executive put it this week during a discussion about Amazon and brewing talks for NFL Sunday Ticket: “Bezos wants his own team. He definitely wants to buy a team.”
Of course just because Bezos wants to buy a team doesn’t mean he will automatically get his wish. The sale still has to be approved by ownership votes. Given that Amazon is going to be a league business partner for a long time, logic dictates that he will have little problem getting approval, especially if he cranks up franchise values with a high purchasing price.
There’s also the flip side of the Bezos power dynamic inside the NFL. As it stands, the richest owner in the league is the Carolina Panthers’ David Tepper, who comes in around $15 billion in net worth. The Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones is next at about $9 billion. Here’s where this gets insane: Bezos’ fortune is on the cusp of $200 billion, which means he’s worth more than all of the NFL’s other primary team owners combined. Yes, you are reading that correctly. According to the net worth published annually by Forbes, Bezos has a bigger piggy bank than the collective primary stakeholders of all 32 NFL teams.
That wouldn’t just make him the shadow commissioner. His place amongst the franchise owners would be something akin to the Marvel character One-Above-All, the closest thing that comic books have to God. That’s what Bezos’ net worth means. He’s powerful enough to go after any club owner he chooses. Or if he were spiteful, rich enough to start his own professional football league and fund it himself. That’s the kind of money we’re talking about. The kind that could be used to take the NFL apart.
But if the league has to do business with Bezos — if it basically has no choice but to let him into its world — why not try to influence that entry in a way that can take the NFL into its next 100 years of development? Take the impossible dream of having an overseas NFL division and sweet talk the retail titan whose name will ultimately go down alongside Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller as the richest persons (adjusted for inflation) in the history of Earth not named Augustus Caesar or Mansa Musa.
Everyone should see the opportunity here. If you’re the league, you can green-light a sale of the Broncos to Bezos or you could talk to Bezos about a London expansion plan that could meaningfully establish a cornerstone in a massive foreign market. Why not reach for the dream here?
Bezos could make that happen. He has the wealth to accomplish virtually everything it would take to make a London franchise viable. Not only could he purchase the land in London and construct an “8th Wonder of the World” stadium complex, he could also establish a fully fleshed-out base of operations in the continental United States, including a massive practice facility, complete with stateside business operations and even player housing for when his franchise might have to make an extended stay in the U.S. during portions of its schedule. Bezos also has the net worth to purchase his own supersonic passenger jets that are in development and expected to become part of travel again late this decade. That could dramatically cut down on overseas flight time for a London franchise and put a Bezos-led franchise on the cutting edge of technology (which he seems to strive for, if you haven’t noticed).
Bezos also has the wealth and power to leap over two key hurdles that continue to concern the league office and other team owners when it comes to putting an NFL franchise in London: embracing and developing a dedicated fan base that will span generations and sell out games every week; and winning (or buying) the support of key government officials at every level of power. Both will take an immense combination of power, influence and money. Bezos represents that holy trinity for the league.
So how could the league convince Bezos to take on this massive undertaking? Well, that’s the rub. It’s a difficult pitch, given that Bezos can go the simple route and buy a team in the United States rather than take on a titanic operation. But that also might be the attraction here for Bezos. He has already built something complicated and titanic in Amazon, which has forever changed the retail world. That was far more difficult than anything any other league club owner has done in their lifetime.
If you’re NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, you sell Bezos on being the man who will revolutionize the reach of the league rather than just another owner like everyone else. To the league, launching a successful franchise in London would be like putting a human on Mars. We know how Bezos feels about space. We know he wants to go to the moon. So pitch him on taking the NFL’s brick-and-mortar operation and laying the first cornerstone in Europe. A foray that could also help his continuing push to move Amazon into a dominant retail position in the United Kingdom, continental Europe and beyond. Make this about not only launching the NFL's future, but laying the overseas pipeline for Amazon and other business pursuits too.
As sales pitches go, all of this is the mother lode. But it’s also the mother lode of opportunities, worth taking on another expansion that will add more teams. Goodell has to see it. This is a legacy moment. The league’s owners have to see it, too — the chance to push the NFL into a new expanse that will keep it on the American sports throne for the next century.
Bezos is coming one way or another. And this might be the last chance to lead him toward the next frontier, rather than just letting him come in and dominate the one that already exists.