Updated: Apr 16
Most sports have a developmental system. The National Hockey League has the American Hockey League, the National Basketball Association has the NBA G League, and Major League Baseball has Minor League Baseball. One big-name League is missing, the National Football League. Technically they don’t have a farm league like the NHL.
However, it wasn’t always like this, there was a league called the NFL Europe (ignore that fact a could amount of teams were in the U.S. in the beginning) that served as the developmental league for the NFL.
The World American Football League (1991-1992)
The Not NFL Europe was initially named the World League of American Football. It was the first-ever trans-Atlantic significant sports league. This league started on March 23rd, 1991. Their “Superbowl” was called the world bowl, it had the Barcelona Dragons taking on the London Monarchs. London would win 21-0. At the end of their first-ever season, they were at risk of folding.
This league was losing nearly $7 million a year.
Bizarrely the league was brought back for a second season because it did surprisingly well in European television markets. It was shortened to the World League. The only change was the Raliegh-Durham Skyhawks were replaced by the Ohio Glory. Ultimately the Word League would suspend operations from 1993-1994. It made its glorious return in 1995 under a different name.
In 1995, the World League returned as a six-team league. Three of those teams were the original European teams from the WAFL, Frankfort Galaxy, London Monarch, and Barcelona Dragons. Three new franchises also were a part of this return, the Amsterdam Admirals, the Rhein Fire, and Scottish Claymores (their mascot was a sword, not a mine, although that would be more hilarious). One
rule requirement was that each team had to have a native of that country on their roster.
In 1998 the League was officially renamed NFL Europe (NFLEL). The London Monarchs were changed to the England Monarchs to spur people to come to their game (their attendance was below 10,000). Did that work? No, eventually the Monarchs folded and were replaced by the Berlin Thunder. The Monarchs wouldn’t be the only team to fold. 2002 marked NFL Europe’s tenth anniversary, Regardless, NFL Europe was not profitable.
The league’s next move was to announce a three-year promotional deal with FC Barcelona, to promote the Barcelona Dragons. The team was renamed FC Barcelona Dragons. Needless to say, the deal was unsuccessful. Barcelona would end up folding in the 2003 season. The team’s attendance had fallen under 7,000 (there was a 50% since the season they won the World Bowl).
The Dragons were replaced by the Cologne Centurions in 2004. In 2005 the Scottish Claymores folded (they boasted the biggest Scottish sports following for a team that wasn’t a soccer club, averaging 10,799). The league focused on the German sports market and added a team called the Hamburg Sun Devils. That left the Amderstam Admirlas as the only team that was not in Germany. In 2006, the League changed its name again, this time to NFL Europa (ahead of the league’s 15th anniversary).
It was Fun While It Lasted
On July 29th, 2007 the NFL announced the closure of NFL Europe, due to a $30 million (U.S) dollar loss. Although there wouldn’t be an official European NFL Team (there’s still a chance of a team being in Europe). The NFL vowed to hold games outside of the U.S. which has happened.
Famous Players from NFL Europe
The league would have famous NFL talent. Adam Vinatieri who was a staple during the New England Patriots dynasty played for the Amsterdam Admirals. Quarterbacks Jon Kitna, Superbowl Champion and Grocery Store MVP Kurt Warner, Carolina Panthers legend Jake Delhome, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl quarterback Brad Johnson all played in NFL Europe. As well as many others.
Could there be an NFL European Franchise?
There definitely could be an NFL European Franchise in the future (although traveling logistics get in the way). The Jacksonville Jaguars are probably loved more in England than Jacksonville itself. All European Games that were held this past NFL season were virtually sold out. Nonetheless, there are also American Cities that desperately need an NFL team. San Antonio, St. Louis, and Houston. NFL Europe may be a key way how the NFL gauges its European audience.