The NFL’s Logistics Problem

The NFL’s Logistics Problem

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two months at No sports league in the world makes more money
than the American National Football League. The NFL earns more yearly revenue than the
English Premier League, the Champions League, Formula One, the Japanese Nippon Professional
Baseball League, and the Kontinental Hockey League combined. It is by far the largest sports league in
the world by revenue. Making up the NFL are 32 football teams each
themselves essentially acting as their own distinct businesses. These teams are spread out all across the
contiguous United States—some only 30 miles or 45 kilometers apart from each other, some
nearly 3,000 miles or 4,500 kilometers apart. Now, American football teams are some of the
largest in sports, both physically and in numbers. They have a roster of 56 players—the majority
of which play in any given game. These players weigh on average about 250 pounds
or 110 kilograms. This team size leads to some particular travel
needs. Players each require a first class seat or,
at the very least, the seat next to them free in economy meaning those 56 players take up
far more than 56 seats. On top of that, a team typically brings more
than 100 support staff and an immense amount of cargo to each away game. With the exception of the largest, most valuable
ones, most other professional sports teams in the US will just fly on chartered narrow-body
aircraft like a320’s, 737’s, or 757’s, but most NFL teams, given their size, require
something larger. NFL teams tend to charter their aircraft from
commercial airlines—American, Delta, United, or Hawaiian Airlines—and they’ll typically
fly something a bit larger than other teams like a 767 or sometimes even a 777, but the
nature of this charter job makes finding a plane to take them particularly difficult. You see, let’s take the example of the New
York Jets’ last game of the 2018 season versus the New England Patriots on December
30th. For this game, they left the day before on
a United Airlines 767-400 at 3:37 pm landing 30 minutes later, at 4:07 pm, in Providence,
Rhode Island. The plane then sat on the ground at Providence
airport for the next 26 hours until the game was over. The following day, the plane took off at 6:30
pm bound for New York. The aircraft’s previous flight had been
to Buenos Aires and its next flight was to London and yet for these 26 hours, United
only made money from the half hour charter flight to and from Providence. It’s easy to understand why this wouldn’t
really be worth it to the airline, but at least the Jets are located next to a United
Airlines hub at Newark airport. Many teams, like the New Orleans Saints, for
example, are not located in a city with any airline hub. That makes finding an airline to take their
charter contract even more difficult. That’s because, for example, when the team
had to travel to Charlotte last season, the 767 that took them had to fly in empty from
Houston, the nearest United hub, then fly to Charlotte, sit on the ground for 33 hours,
fly back to New Orleans, then once again fly empty—this time all the way to New York. All told, for the 2 hours and 51 minutes of
flight time United was paid for, they used this airplane for about 44 hours. Being located away from an airline hub, where
planes are based, means charter flights will almost always require a plane flying in empty. It is for this reason that airlines are raising
rates or just flat-out stopping flying NFL teams as they find normal, commercial flying
a more lucrative use of their aircraft. American Airlines, in recent years, for example,
dropped all the many teams they previously flew except for the Carolina Falcons, the
Dallas Cowboys, and the Philadelphia Eagles—three teams located at their hub airports. More teams have moved their contract to dedicated
charter companies such as Atlas Air or Miami Air International, while the New England Patriots
even bought their own set of planes to solve this issue. Some other teams still have contracts with
commercial airlines but have switched to flying multiple smaller planes as these can be in
less demand. The Indianapolis Colts, for example, now typically
travel in two Delta 757’s leaving within a half hour of each other. Other American sports, such as Hockey, Baseball,
and Basketball, don’t have nearly as much of a problem because they play far more games
a season, which makes their contract a more attractive one to the airlines, and they also
typically use smaller aircraft of which there are more available. The NFL briefly considered investing in its
own fleet of aircraft or at least negotiating a deal with an airline in bulk, like the NBA
does with Delta, but for now, NFL teams are seeing their travel costs skyrocket as the
laws of supply and demand take hold. After losing their contract with American
Airlines, for example, the Jacksonville Jaguars saw their travel costs double to $4 million
a year as they chartered an Atlas Air 747 and remember, those $4 million pay for the
travel costs to a mere eight away games. But the NFL’s most daunting logistics problem
is not this. Their most daunting logistics problem relates
to the NFL’s other big problem—expansion. You see, part of the reason the NFL is the
most valuable sports league in the world is because of how saturated the football market
is in the US. 57% of Americans identify as NFL fans. That’s an amazing level of market saturation
for what is, at its core, a business, but that also presents a problem because, with
such a high proportion of the population already fans, it’s quite difficult for the NFL to
expand their audience, at least within the US. In the past decade or so, the league has turned
its attention internationally. The NFL now plays regular season games in
Mexico City and London. These cities don’t have home teams but rather,
two teams from the US will come out and play. For the most part, these international games
are about promoting the sport in these two countries which already have significant fanbases
watching the sport on TV. There’s never been more than one game a
season in Mexico City but in London, in the 2019 season, they’re playing four regular
season games. With the 16 regular-season games per team
per year, any other city that has a resident NFL team typically only has eight home games
meaning London’s quantity is really not that far off. What’s more, the Jacksonville Jaguars are
designated as a sort of home team for London and therefore play at least one of their games
there each year in an attempt to give the city and country a clear team to root for. The league has even said that it plans to
eventually have a full eight games per season in London—the same as any home city in the
US. The reason there are now so many NFL games
in London is because the sport of American football has gained significant inroads in
the UK audience. The NFL estimates that it has 13 million fans
in the UK, 4 million of which watch regularly, and 47,000 of which buy games to every single
NFL game in the UK. Its dedication to the UK has become so significant
that it contributed $12.5 million to the construction of the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in north
London. This recently opened stadium was built to
become the home of the NFL in the UK. It has a permanent synthetic American football
pitch under its grass soccer field; purpose built, NFL-sized locker rooms; and a media
suite built to the preferences of NFL press. In the coming years, at least two NFL games
will occur each year at this stadium. Now, the logistics of these international
games in London are formidable. When the Seahawks played in London in 2018,
they had to ship 1,150 rolls of athletic tape, about 4,000 pounds or 1,800 kilograms of medical
supplies, 350 power adapters, 500 shoes, 240 pairs of socks, and tens of thousands of other
pounds of equipment to the city weeks ahead of their arrival. Months before, they had to arrange for many
of their players, who had never left the US, to get passports. The team’s trainers had to carefully schedule
their players sleep in the week leading up to reduce jet-lag. There’s even a hotel in Watford with a purpose
built American football practice pitch that the teams typically stay in. While these London matches come at great difficulty
and force teams to sacrifice a coveted home game, the teams and their owners seem to tolerate
them given their infrequency and the promise of the UK market. But the promise of the UK market could push
the NFL to stretch beyond eight international series games a year there. You see, there is some very real, very serious
discussion of putting a National Football League team in London. There is little doubt that the city and country
could support a team in terms of fanbase. The issue, according to the league’s commissioner,
would be having one solitary team stationed more than 3,000 miles or 5,000 kilometers
away from the next. It would be an immense logistics problem considering
that, for the weekly games, teams would have to take flights as long as eleven hours crossing
up to eight timezones. On the flip side, this London NFL team would
have to travel continuously throughout the US for weeks at a time since, practically,
it wouldn’t make sense for them to return to London between the weekly games. This would come at enormous expense, would
likely impact their performance, and prove unpopular with their players. In addition, as the UK does not yet have significant
American football talent, the majority of this teams players would come from the US
and would need to be persuaded, either monetarily or otherwise, to live outside their home country. Those are just some of the cost problems. Beyond that, it is not cheap to fly a whole
NFL team over the Atlantic every week. For the international series games, teams
were flown on chartered Virgin Atlantic 747 or a330’s arranged by the league, but if
London had a fully fledged NFL team, it would likely be treated just like any other team
meaning both them and their American competitors would have to arrange their own flights. The wide-body planes teams would have to charter
to cross the Atlantic come at a cost of up to $50,000 per flight hour. That means that transatlantic travel costs,
just in terms of the flight, would be anywhere between $650,000 for an east coast team or
up to a full $1 million for west coast teams. Teams also tend to carry tens of thousands
of pounds of cargo to each away game which would further escalate the cost. While such an expense would be little issue
for large, wealthy teams like the Dallas Cowboys or New England Patriots, teams with smaller
budgets like the Detroit Lions or Cleveland Browns would certainly have more of an issue
with potentially adding an extra million in travel costs. But this level of team isolation is not unprecedented. Further west, in the middle of the Pacific,
the University of Hawaii has a division one college football team—the Hawaii Rainbow
Warriors. The closest team in their conference is 2,600
miles or 4,200 kilometers away in San Diego. To get there, they take a five hour flight. That’s only an hour or two faster than it
would take a London NFL team to get to its closest competitor—the New England Patriots. While the furthest team in the Rainbow Warrior’s
conference is only a seven or eight hour flight away in Colorado Springs, Colorado, they do
play a number of non-conference games each year which take them all the way to the US
east coast—an up to 10 hour flight away from Honolulu which is almost exactly the
same as the longest required travel time for an NFL team to London. Not only that, but the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors
also have to balance their time with class schedules which means that they travel to
their away games far closer to kickoff than NFL teams typically do to London. The Rainbow Warriors regularly rack up more
travel miles than any professional football team. For example, in one particularly grueling
month in 2016, the team started its season with an international match in Sydney, Australia,
then the next weekend played in Ann Arbor, Michigan, then the weekend after that played
in Tucson, Arizona meaning they flew 25,000 miles or 40,000 kilometers in just one month. The Rainbow Warriors also make most of their
trips on commercial flights making their travel even more difficult than that of NFL teams. Now, this does potentially give the team a
more significant home-field advantage since they’re used to playing with jet lag while
their opponents, when they fly to Hawaii, would not be, but it also supports the view
that, logistically, it would be possible to add an NFL team in London. There are even professional sports leagues
that already regularly require travel over similar or greater distances. The Kontinental Hockey League, for example,
has teams spread out all across Asia and Eastern Europe meaning the teams from Beijing, Vladivostok,
Khabarovsk, and Beijing regularly have to travel more than 4,000 miles or 6,500 kilometers
to play the teams from Minsk, Riga, and Helsinki. An even more extreme example would be Super
Rugby which has teams spread out across Japan, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, and New
Zealand. With this, when the Tokyo Sunwolves play the
Buenos Aires Janguares, for example, they have to travel more than 11,000 miles or 18,000
kilometers each way to their match. Part of the NFL’s problem is just the pure
scale of their competitions with many tens of thousands of pounds of equipment and many
hundreds of staff traveling to each game. The problems are surmountable, though, at
a cost but this cost would be partially burdened by every other team in the league. The question is then, given the promise of
adding a whole new country to the league, is the cost worth it. Now, if the NFL expands to London, one of
the first things the new team will need is a logo. Luckily, there’s a class on Skillshare for
that. Professional animator Fraser Davidson, who
actually has done design work for the NFL, teaches this fantastic course which walks
you through the process of creating your own mascot. This is just one of over 25,000 classes on
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About the Author: Garret Beatty


  1. 50 years from now:

    “Ah yeah there were times when we emitted tons of CO2 to transport our people to kick those rubber balls across the nation”

  2. – I'm curious why the NFL wouldn't emphasize a collective charter agreement.
    – I'm also curious how the logistics problem for CFP-level FBS college football compares.

  3. A team in London would be so stupid, i'm sorry. Yes there may be a fan base there, but I seriously can't see any teams wanting that to actually happen as it's a nightmare tho get there. Teams in Canada would make more sense, even if the CFL already exist.

  4. the solution is pretty obvious. geographically isolate the teams by setting up a new conference of teams in the UK instead of just one team. that conference plays with itself and only has a few games international. England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, give em all a team.

  5. Maybe the EU should have a Euro-NFL division. Maybe London, Nice, somewhere in Spain, Frankfurt, and a couple other cities?

  6. Can we just talk about how this kind of travel is regular for a lot of other sports. Especially something like rugby. I know the team sizes are smaller but in terms of living outside of your country and going on multiple week long tours for away games it's nothing unprecedented. The only reason I say this is only because I want NFL to be more international!!!

  7. The funny thing is, the solution would have been expanding to the neighbors. But Canada doesnt want the NFL and México has a growing local league, soon there will be no place to expand.

  8. F1 travels around the world with massive amounts of equipment and people so it is possible. Granted there is usually two weeks between races in F1

  9. Nfl is the most valuable league in the world
    lists premier league but not champions league

    Champions league: am i a joke to you

  10. Wow, talking about the NFL in London and nowhere in sight is an NFL team for Toronto which Torontonians desperately want and don't deserve based on Argo attendance.

  11. I dunno. If I was the NFL, I'd expand to CANADA before the UK. The logistical problems discussed above would be rendered moot, and there are at least 2 Canadian cities that have the potential fanbase available to make a team profitable (Toronto and Vancouver). Yes, there probably would be some issue with the NFL "stealing" fans from CFL fanbases, but honestly, the Lions and Argos are trash anyway, so maybe it'd be better to have some local competition to keep them sharp.

  12. @ 0:36 – "These teams are spread out all across the contiguous United States; some only 30 miles or 45 kilometers apart from each other; some nearly 3,000 miles or 4,500 kilometers apart."

    I happen to know of two teams some 53 1/3 yards or 48.77 meters apart, but planes don't fly between those destinations so they have to go by bus instead.

  13. 2:10 correction, TF Green (KPVD) (not Providence Airport) nor in Providence (rather Warwick). And oddly enough TF Green is the home for the Patriots own aircraft. From a logistics standpoint , TF Green is more ideal than Logan (closer, cheaper landing fees, less traffic delays)

  14. NFL could buy few second-hand A380s custom-fitted for the sport and share them among the teams. With some smart planning, this could take care of the problem.

  15. Perhaps NFL should go the FEDEX route and invest in their own airline… Higher franchise fees for every team at the expense of free travel?

  16. I doubt there is a significance audience in the uk for gridiron.

    A couple of novelty games is one thing but that doesn't mean there is enough interest to sustain a sport that is the very definition of minority here.
    I have no idea where they get the 13 million fans or 4 million viewers.
    There arent that many yanks in Britain and the average Brit gives the sport less time and respect than yanks do with football.

  17. you talked so much about london but forgot to explain why the revenue of that league is more than all the others leagues mentioned combined..

  18. I really like Wendover for making any topic interesting, I've never thought about logistics of NFL or any sport league but I start to watch and really want to know how it's done. And I'm even not from America and only seen a couple of SuperBowls on internet.

  19. If American football becomes popular in the UK, what are they going to call the other kind of football? If London gets an NFL team, will they get rugby players to join?

  20. We don't want a London team. Keep it as it is. It's an American sport and I feel lucky I get to watch at least 2 games a year. No matter who the teams are playing, I will still go because i love the sport and i already follow a team and wouldn't change it to the London team no matter what!! FlyEaglesFly 🦅

  21. Man, these sports leagues sure love their carbon emissions. All so they can chase a ball on a specific large rectangle.

  22. You have got to stop with the “thirty miles or forty-five kilometers.” It’s really annoying.

  23. Well if the NFL expands they have to bring in 2 teams otherwise some teams would end up playing less regular season games. So if they expand to london they should also bring a team to like Northern Ireland or something. So that way a little bit of price could be cut considering they would play twice a year if they are in the same confrence.

  24. Can I point out that American football is a bad spectator sport? It's so boring and stop start. There's a reason it's primarily popular in the same country that made up baseball.

  25. I don't even know the rules of this game, tho I watched a lot of Lingerie Football League. This video was about something I didn't know I wanted to know.

  26. they should do an European league and once the level of that league will be close enough to to the NFL they should do the top 4 Europe vs top 4 from NFL
    one year the games will be in Europe and the next in USA

  27. Well, today I learned that most teams don't own their own aircraft. I figured they'd at least have 1 or 2 aircraft that they book just for the season.

  28. Using the University of Hawaii is an imperfect example. First, they can negotiate their own non-conference schedule. Normally, upper-tier teams pay lower-tier teams to come and play non-conference games against them. Also, Hawaii is only obligated to travel 4 times a year for their 4 conference away games. In fact, this coming season, they have only 1 non-conference away game (vs. Washington in Seattle.) Their other 3 non-conference games are at home (Arizona, Oregon State, Central Arkansas).

  29. I value strong expansion in any sport. However, international expansion should be considered very carefully. The logistics of dozens of time zones and countries would be a concern(in my opinion). I don't believe it is worth the costs, and the challenging logistics.

  30. only 4 mins in. Can't the players and support staff just fly by themselves or in small groups instead of all trying to go as one? Everyone is an adult and considering how big the players are i'm sure no one will try to kidnap them at the airport like a child.

  31. 56 players is a joke. cut the roster down to 30 and would make the game much more interesting. You don't need third down specialists!

  32. Toronto Wolfpack play in English Rugby League’s championship (2nd division), and they are currently 1st on the table as well.

  33. NFL: How can we afford to go to London on 11B a year?
    F1: Well we go all over the world on a fifth the budget and everything works out. A quick trip over the pond is relatively easy
    NFL: How will we do it?
    F1: Our opening in in Australia
    NFL: It's a mystery

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