Robinson: In NFL, no place like home
If London is calling, these Steelers aren't answering.
The Steelers will play the Vikings in London on Sept. 29, the first international regular-season game in their history. It will be a four-day disruption of their usual routine, a 7,450-mile round trip that is nearly 3,000 miles longer than their most distant continental journey to Oakland, Calif. It's one their players, coaches and staff likely will tolerate rather than enjoy.
Take a gander at Big Ben? The Steelers can do that every day in practice.
Now consider the alternative. What if every home game, every practice, every offseason session and nearly every month of the year were spent in London?
This is the first season the NFL will play two regular-season games in Wembley Stadium, with the Jaguars meeting the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 27, the first of four games Jacksonville will play in its new home away from home during the next four seasons. Adding one game per season and having the same team return each year is seen as a precursor to an NFL team shifting to London in the not-distant future — perhaps within the next 10 years.
That's one move a fleet of moving vans couldn't accomplish, a la the Colts' middle-of-the-night relocation from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984.
If any of the current Steelers players find themselves playing in London someday, they're probably part of the current rookie class. The veterans probably will be long since packed off to retirement and, for that, safety Ryan Clark is grateful.
He questions whether any star players will want to pack up their families and shift not just to another city but also another continent. He shakes his head at the thought of finding a place to live, the proper schools, the right meals, enjoyable TV, a new social life — in effect, a new way of life.
“I'd only play there if they drafted me,” Clark said. “Maybe younger guys without families just breaking into the league, they would go there. But it would be highly unlikely you would get high-profile free agents to decide to go to London and play. You would see guys take less money in order to not be in London, to not relocate your family. Just the simple things we take for granted (would be gone).”
Clark couldn't even begin to estimate the financial incentives that would be required to entice a player to live in a country where the highest tax bracket is 50 percent, compared to the 39 percent rate in the U.S., where even a modest three-room apartment near London's city center runs $4,200 a month — a price that would buy a luxury home in many NFL cities stateside.
Transportation would be more expensive, with new cars costing at least 20 percent more. Taxi rates can be double those of New York. Meat isn't nearly as plentiful in the smallish supermarkets, and chicken is much more costly. Day care would be expensive. Utilities often run twice as much. Clothing? Be prepared to pay $40 more for a pair of Levis in London than in New York. ATMs aren't as plentiful or as reliable as back home. And a giant SUV in London is the virtual equivalent of a Mini Cooper in the U.S.
And would players who maintain a permanent residence in, for example, Florida be forced to pay U.S. taxes and British taxes?
“I wouldn't want to do it,” linebacker Larry Foote said. “But it's always about the money, which one makes more sense.
If you got better tax breaks, guys maybe wouldn't be opposed to it.”
Don't expect to be able to relax at home by putting on an NBA game, either. Other than British football, American pro sports can be difficult to find on the telly or are aired at off hours, though you'd get to watch “Downton Abbey” months ahead of those stateside.
Looking for live entertainment? No doubt franchise owners will blanch when they find out there are pubs galore in London proper, or just the place they don't want their high-priced talent frequenting on a nightly basis.
Many players like to fly their parents, brothers, sisters and friends to games, sometimes on a weekly basis. Doing so in London would be immensely complicated and prohibitively expensive.
“Uhh, I don't think playing there would be best for me and my family,” receiver Antonio Brown said.
And do players really want to play in a country where their sport is an afterthought, a pleasant diversion rather than a way of life, as it is in Pittsburgh? Do they really want to be able to walk down the street and not be recognized? Do they want to be in a country where they show up at the end of the nightly sports highlight shows rather than at the beginning?
“I can understand expanding the league, and that's something the commissioner and NFL office want to do,” Clark said. “But I can't see many guys wanting to go there to play.”
It's not just the players who might find London uber costly.
Prospective team owners might be discouraged when they begin calculating player costs. If quarterback Aaron Rodgers is worth $130.75 million to the Packers, how much might it take to lure him to London? Two hundred million?
“Guys have tough transitions going from San Francisco to Kansas City,” Clark said. “To uproot a guy not only from his city or his state but his country? I think that would be extremely hard.”
So perhaps the Steelers should pay thanks to the fact they'll still be the Pittsburgh Steelers when they return home from Europe next month. Consider the alternative a few years from now: Waking up in the morning and remembering you're now part of the London Miners.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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