The NFL Europe has decided to shut down after 15 seasons. The 2007 season marked the final year of existence for the developmental league. This decision is correct from a financial standpoint (it has been losing money for years) but will end an important outlet for fringe NFL players to gain invaluable experience.
The NFL Europe venue, along with Arena and Canadian Football Leagues, is a great resource for the NFL – the best sports organization in the United States in terms of interest and revenue. Many players that have spent time on practice squads and been drafted in the later rounds are starters in the European league and finally can showcase their abilities on a consistent basis. The only chances they have in the NFL are tryouts or preseason action.
Many prominent players have gained recognition and a chance to play in the NFL because of NFL Europe. Quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Jake Delhomme have become stars in the NFL after gaining playing time in front of scouts in Europe. The league is a valuable resource for NFL teams because they can allocate players for NFLE and follow their play throughout its season. They can play regularly and translate that success into interest with a few teams back in the NFL for the following season. These players stay in great shape instead of having to find alternate employment in the off-season if they were on the practice squad or outside the NFL all together the past season. These players are valuable commodities because thye learn to adapt to a variety of team environments, coaching styles and philosophies – something they must excel at with the lifestyle of an NFL free agent.
The NFL collects most of its outrageous revenue from TV rights and contracts, not attendance numbers. NFL Europe had a decent following in terms of attendance – more than 48,000 during the championship weekend in 2007, but the TV market for the league (rare mainstream events in addition to NFL network and ESPN coverage) is shallow as the only regular viewers of the action are hardcore football fans with a craving for any competitive football action during the NFL off-season.
The NFL has the luxury of being the “big dog” of the sports world, making tons of money, having the country at their fingertips, boasting huge stars, and owning the TV sets of the nation when they bill something as a “big game.” One way to ensure they stay on top is having great depth of talent in the league. If Peyton Manning gets hurt or Tomlinson goes down with a season-ending ACL injury, they need a good reserve to come in and take his place. That player needs to have the ability to be a great story. Kurt Warner went from bagboy at the local grocery store to NFL Europe star to Super Bowl MVP. It was a great story for the league that wouldn’t have been possible without the NFL Europe League. Even if the European league is a financial eyesore for the NFL for the next 10 years, it has an intergral role in sustaining the talent level on depth charts after the superstars and blue-chip college athletes are taken.