The Atlanta Falcons take on the Detroit Lions at London’s Wembley Stadium on Sunday in the second of three NFL International Series games this year. Ahead of the game, SportsPro caught up with Falcons president and chief executive Rich McKay to discuss the team’s first trip across the Atlantic.
How have preparations for your first trip to London been going?
I think we underestimated, as an organisation, just how much work goes into it logistically, to make it all work. We’re putting the final touches; I just got out of a meeting in the last hour and a half going through the final checklist and all the logistics, both to move the football team, which is one thing, but also to move our sponsors and travelling party. It’s a challenge.
What are you hoping to achieve from the experience?
We look at it as an opportunity. It is an opportunity to extend our brand internationally but also just on a bigger stage, if you will. And to see what it would be like logistically to go to London, play a game in London, use the opportunity to bring sponsors and entertain, because we are in the entertainment business. We look at it as a very positive opportunity.
"It’s unquestioned that the experience in London and the growth of the game has been incredibly positive for our league."
As the home team in this fixture, you’ve had to give up a game at Georgia Dome to play in London. Was that a difficult decision to make?
We were the ones that sought the league out and asked for the opportunity to play the game, and obviously that took us going to our landlord, the Georgia World Congress Center, and getting them to agree. We voluntarily wanted to do this and you know what, our players are actually excited to come over.
Not everyone would see it that way, not least a good portion of Falcons season ticket holders. Are you saying the whole organisation is keen on the idea?
We are because number one, we are a member of the league. There are 32 of us and part of the obligation of being a member of the league is to do what is in the best interests of the league. It’s unquestioned that the experience in London and the growth of the game has been incredibly positive for our league, so we feel an obligation to be good partners and go over to continue to try and grow the game over there, expose people to the game and have our product seen by a lot of people.
What are your thoughts on the viability of having a London-based franchise? A three-year timeframe has been mooted by some.
I’ll leave it to the commissioner and others on the timeframe. Viability-wise, if you had asked me five years ago I wouldn’t have said it’s viable because I would have felt that logistically there were just too many hurdles to it. But, in my competition committee role, we’ve spent some time going through it and I’m not so sure that it’s not achievable, that you couldn’t put a team in London and still create a competitiveness for that team where they could compete. I’m starting to the turn to the side where I do see it as viable and I do see it as something that is probably today a little more likely than I ever would have thought it would be.