Tottenham Wants to Be the NFL’s Premier League Team
- As the Premier League kicks off and the NFL season approaches, a look at Spurs’ partnership with the NFL that could lay the groundwork for a permanent team in the U.K. By then, Harry Kane might be ready for the switch to placekicker
Tottenham Hotspur went on a summer tour of the U.S. late last month, playing friendly matches in Orlando and New Jersey and Nashville. When in America, Spurs’ biggest star figured, why not try a little American football?
The day before before the Premier League team’s match with AS Roma at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., in late July, Harry Kane spent part of his day nearby at the Giants’ team headquarters. He and safety Landon Collins tossed some footballs around; caught some footballs; and then Kane wanted to give field-goal kicking a try. Made sense: Kane was the Premier League’s top goal-scorer in each of the last two seasons.
He started from the 15-yard line. Good. He moved to the 20. Good. He moved even farther back, trying a 50-yard field goal. Good.
At age 24, Kane is in the prime of his soccer career; in June he captained England for the first time, in a World Cup qualifier against Scotland. But in the back of his mind is a pipe dream of trying out as an NFL placekicker when his professional soccer career is over.
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“I have always said I’d like to try and see if it would be possible,” says Kane, who may be the most avid NFL fan in England’s top flight. “It depends on how my career goes and injuries and how I age. But if I get to a stage where I am still fit and feel like I can do a job, I’d love to. If they have a team in England, it could work perfectly.”
Neither possibility is imminent—but as for the NFL putting a team in the U.K., its 10-year partnership with Tottenham is another step toward that end. Next year, in time for both the Premier League and NFL seasons, Spurs will open their new 61,000-seat stadium in North London, replacing venerable White Hart Lane. There will be plenty of distinctive features to the venue—its own microbrewery, and acoustics like a concert hall—but the most distinctive is that it will be fully customized for both soccer and the NFL.
Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy proposed the idea about five years ago, and those around Spurs joke that the NFL must have thought they were crazy. The club wanted to build more than just a Premier League stadium in the Tottenham neighborhood of North London. And the growing popularity of the NFL in London, since the International Series began in 2007, presented an opportunity that was ideal for both sides.
The blueprint for the new stadium includes separate locker rooms for the NFL—designed to accommodate both bigger players and bigger roster sizes—as well as media areas, coach boxes and medical facilities. Most important to the design, though, is the fully retractable grass pitch, which will slide underneath the south stands to uncover an artificial-turf surface that will be used for NFL games. The conversion takes just an hour, providing scheduling flexibility for the American league, something that has been a limiting factor in booking dates at the two other venues the NFL uses in London, Wembley and Twickenham.
The 10-year partnership calling for the NFL to play two games per season at Spurs’ new home once it opens was forged two years ago, and the NFL has since invested $12.8 million toward the stadium, a small percentage of the overall development cost of about $900 million. While its unlikely to happen in the stadium’s first year, both the NFL and Spurs envision a Premier League-NFL doubleheader at Tottenham.
“What we have done in effect is bring together the two most popular sports in the world,” says Donna-Maria Cullen, Spurs’ executive director. “I think for the NFL, this is the next step for them in looking at where they take the NFL internationally. Our stadium gives them the opportunity to experience what it would be like with a facility that was totally customized for their use.”
Spurs would be “absolutely delighted,” Cullen said, if the NFL chose to put a franchise in their stadium. At this point, that idea is still hypothetical. The league has taken a stepwise approach to testing the viability of an overseas team, steadily growing the number of games played in London (four this season), adding in division games and scheduling games without a bye week on the back end.
But Tottenham’s positioning itself as the NFL’s partner in the Premier League certainly opens up possibilities for both sides. The Premier League in the U.S. and the NFL in the U.K. are on somewhat similar growth trajectories, fueled by TV rights deals and games staged across the pond (though unlike the NFL in the U.K., the EPL has never played a regular-season game in the U.S.) Spurs have a strong fan base in America; the club says it knows of 64 supporter groups across the U.S. And then there’s their star player’s American football fandom. “We can help each other,” Kane says.
Most of Spurs’ games are played on Saturday, so Kane will often spend Sunday the same way many Americans do: Watching six hours straight of the RedZone channel. His interest in the sport was stoked about five or six years ago through his fianceé’s brother, who would often turn on college football games at their house. He explained the rules to Kane, who was quickly hooked. Even before that, though, a teenaged Kane would scour YouTube, seeking inspiration from athletes in different sports around the globe. He became fixated on “The Brady 6,” the ESPN and NFL Films presentation that tells the story of Tom Brady through the six quarterbacks drafted ahead of him in 2000. It’s about 45 minutes in length on YouTube, Kane notes, proof of the number of times he’s watched it.
“It's a helluva an inspirational story, really, for any sportsman to see how he got to where he was. It’s great motivation,” says Kane, who toiled on loan in the lower divisions in England early in his career, before his breakout season with Spurs in 2014-15. “Just how he come into the sport; obviously a lot of people doubted him, a lot of people didn’t think he would go and do what he’s done, and become who he's become. I was in the same kind of position trying to get into Tottenham and the Premier League, so I used that as motivation. And he had a lot of self-belief, which I ingrained into myself.”
Kane even went so far as to name one of his adopted Labrador dogs Brady. (His second dog is named Wilson, but it’s not after the Seahawks quarterback. It’s just a name his fiancée liked). He’s never met the five-time Super Bowl champion. But starting in 2018 it’s quite possible he might have the chance to meet his sports idol on his home turf in Tottenham.
“I’d love to play one day and then get changed after winning and watch the NFL a couple hours later,” Kane says. “That’d be cool.”
All the better, too, to keep that NFL placekicker dream alive. “Maybe in a few years,” Kane says, “I’ll get a [goalpost] set up in my garden and start practicing.”
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