|This article needs additional citations for verification. (August 2012)|
- "World League of American Football" redirects here.
|Owner(s)||National Football League|
|No. of teams||10 (1991–1992)
|Countries|| Canada (1991–1992)
United Kingdom (1991–2004)
United States (1991–1992)
|Last champion(s)||Hamburg Sea Devils|
|Most titles||Frankfurt Galaxy, 4|
The World League of American Football (shortened to WLAF or World League), later renamed NFL Europe and then NFL Europa, was a professional American football league which operated between 1991 and 2007. It was backed by the National Football League (NFL), the largest league in the United States. Each season culminated with the World Bowl.
The World League of American Football was founded in 1991 to serve as a type of spring league. Seven of the 10 teams were based in North America, and the other three in Europe. This format lasted for two seasons, with no league in 1993–94.
The WLAF returned in 1995 with six teams, all in Europe, and in 1998 the league was rebranded as the NFL Europe League or NFL Europe, until 2006. For the league's last season, 2007, it officially changed its name to NFL Europa.
Players in NFL Europe/Europa were predominantly assigned by NFL teams who wanted these younger, developmental players to get additional game experience and coaching. The NFL assumed the expenses of players and coaches living in Europe. The European six-team format was maintained for 12 seasons, from 1995–2007, but by 2007 five teams were based in Germany. On 29 June 2007, the NFL announced the end of NFL Europa.
- 1 History
- 2 Teams
- 3 Experimental rules
- 4 Television coverage
- 5 Stadiums
- 6 Notes and references
- 7 See also
- 8 External links
A previous proposed league in the 1970s, the Intercontinental Football League, had contained many elements of the eventual all-European league. West German entrepreneur Adalbert Wetzel and sports coach Bob Kap secured the release of several NFL players to the IFL for a planned 1975 season. The IFL would have involved teams in Barcelona, Rome, West Berlin, Munich, Vienna and Istanbul, but was cancelled due to economic and political problems.
World League of American Football (WLAF)
The World League of American Football was formed in 1989, by a unanimous vote of NFL owners, as a spring developmental league, the "brainchild" of commissioner Paul Tagliabue. This came after the NFL had played popular American Bowls in London's Wembley Stadium and elsewhere since 1986. Of the 28 NFL teams, 26 paid $50,000 each in start-up costs for the WLAF. Team payrolls and budgets were controlled by the WLAF office but not all teams were owned by the league; in May 1992 it owned five (including Barcelona, London and Frankfurt) and part-owned three.
The WLAF was set up as a professional American football league for North America and Europe: six teams from the United States, three European teams, and one Canadian team. In 1991 parties in Moscow and Japan expressed an interest in additional franchises. Others were initially proposed in Mexico City, Milan, Paris and possibly Asia, but were never formed.
Teams were aligned in three divisions:
- North American West: Birmingham Fire, Sacramento Surge, San Antonio Riders
- North American East: Montreal Machine, New York/New Jersey Knights, Orlando Thunder, Raleigh–Durham Skyhawks (replaced by Ohio Glory in 1992)
- European: Barcelona Dragons, Frankfurt Galaxy, London Monarchs
The WLAF played two seasons in the spring of 1991 and 1992, with 10 teams playing a 10-game regular season with the World Bowl championship game. Rules unique to WLAF included assigning increasing point value to field goals based on distance, and a requirement that at least one player of non-US nationality participate in at least every other series of downs.
New ideas were successfully tested, like using the two-point conversion rule also on the professional field before adopting it in the NFL in 1994. Other minor tweaks in gameplay, such as a shorter kickoff tee, were also first used in the WLAF. Several technical innovations, such as helmet mounted cameras and one-way radios, enabling coaches to tell plays directly to quarterbacks, were also developed.
Average game attendance was 25,361. The original WLAF was barely noticed in the United States, having a "minor-league or developmental image" and low TV ratings. At London, Barcelona, Frankfurt and Montreal, crowds surpassed early expectations. The Monarchs' home attendance led the league, and the Wembley 1991 World Bowl was attended by 61,108. 
In May 1991 the L.A. Times's Chris Dufresne said American fans were less likely than Europeans to "shell out hard-earned dollars for games featuring roster-cut leftovers" and suggested there was a post-USFL backlash in Orlando, Birmingham, and San Antonio.  The WLAF lost $7 million in 1991.
The playoff format consisted of four teams: the three divisional champions, plus a wild card with the best overall non-division winning record. The two teams emerging from the WLAF semi-final playoffs met at the end of the season in the World Bowl. The first two World Bowl locations were predetermined before the season.
Operations of the WLAF were suspended after the 1992 season as the league lost money and the involved NFL owners were not willing to invest more. However, the NFL still needed another pro Football league to help their cause in the antitrust and free agency lawsuit with the National Football League Players' Association.
The three Europe-based teams dominated in 1991, with a combined 24–6 record, while no North American team managed better than 5–5. The London Monarchs won the World Bowl. The Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks lost all 10 games and ultimately their franchise, which was moved to Ohio for 1992.
- Playoffs: Barcelona 10, Birmingham 3; London 42, New York/New Jersey 26
- World Bowl I (London): London 21 Barcelona 0
In 1992, fortunes changed and none of the European teams had winning seasons. Despite this, the European fans remained loyal, but the NFL owners suspended the WLAF after the season. Paul Tagliabue mentioned plans bring it back with only European teams, possibly in 1994. British sports writer Matt Tench cited "an ambivalence on the part of the NFL owners: they wanted a spring league but did not want to create a rival to the NFL. In the end they did not create enough of a rival."
The Sacramento and San Antonio franchises left the WLAF and were set to join the Canadian Football League in 1993. San Antonio folded prior to the season but the Sacramento Gold Miners did play in the CFL for three years, starting the CFL USA initiative created in the wake of the WLAF's suspension.
- Playoffs Orlando 45, Birmingham 7; Sacramento 17, Barcelona 15
- World Bowl II (Montreal): Sacramento 21, Orlando 17
After 1992, the World League was suspended for two years. The spring developmental league had enough NFL support to continue, but without American teams. New teams were announced in July 1994, and the third WLAF season began in April 1995. The 1995 WLAF was based entirely in Europe, and was reduced to six teams. The three existing European teams (London, Barcelona and Frankfurt) were joined by three new teams in Amsterdam (the Admirals), Düsseldorf (Rhein Fire) and Edinburgh (Scottish Claymores).
In the wake of Fox's new contract to broadcast NFL games, Fox became a co-owner of the WLAF and a major financial contributor, in return for broadcasting rights. The relaunched league was sponsored by Reebok, which also manufactured team uniforms.
All six teams played in a single division. By playing each other twice (home and away), the WLAF's regular season lasted for 10 games, as it had in 1991–92. Under the new format, the World Bowl championship game was between the first-half league leader and end-of-season league leader (or runner-up, if the first-half champion also had the best overall record). The first-half champion also hosted the World Bowl. This selection process was abandoned after the 1997 World Bowl.
League attendances averaged less than 15,000.
The London Monarchs left Wembley for reasons of cost, size and availability, moving to White Hart Lane for the 1995 and 1996 seasons. The league was unhappy with White Hart Lane's 93-yard-long field – nowhere near enough to hold a full 100 yards and two 10-yard endzones. The Monarchs moved to Stamford Bridge in 1997.
In 1996 more than 100 players with World League experience played in the NFL. In 1996 London signed former NFL star William Perry and the Claymores' kicker was Scotland rugby captain Gavin Hastings.
By the end of the 1997 season, there were growing concerns that WLAF markets, except Germany, were not living up to their potential. Average attendance for the Monarchs was around 10,000 in 1995–97. Radical changes were made to the two British teams. The London Monarchs would become the England Monarchs, playing home games in London, Birmingham and Bristol and switching their colors from blue, gold and red to red, white and black. Also, the Scottish Claymores would divide their schedule between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Then, at a press conference in San Diego during Super Bowl XXXII weekend, the league announced it too would be changing: the league would be rebranded as NFL Europe.
See also: Category:NFL Europe seasons
Starting in 1998, the league was known as NFL Europe. Qualification for the World Bowl championship game also changed. The two teams with the best overall record after 10 games competed in the World Bowl, to be hosted at a pre-determined site. A team could no longer secure a World Bowl berth midway through the season. The change was largely attributed to the play of the eventual 1997 World Bowl champions, the Barcelona Dragons, who secured a World Bowl berth with a 4-1 first-half record and proceeded to rest players and play what some argued was low-intensity football in the second half, finishing with just a 5-5 record and third place overall in the league's standings.
In the late 1990s two future NFL star quarterbacks were active in the European league. Kurt Warner played for the Amsterdam Admirals in 1998, with Jake Delhomme as his backup quarterback. Delhomme played at the Frankfurt Galaxy the following season in an unorthodox two-quarterback system with Pat Barnes, with the Galaxy winning the 1999 World Bowl.
The NFL Europe era was beset by instability, but NFL Europe president Oliver Luck was "well past being concerned with the short term" and claimed attendances were less vital to revenues than before 1998. However, the England Monarchs were shut down after the 1998 season, being replaced by the Berlin Thunder. In 2002, the Barcelona Dragons became an official section of FC Barcelona, adopting the name FC Barcelona Dragons. However, after only one year Barcelona dropped its sponsorship. The NFL was not interested in keeping the franchise alive, and replaced it with the Cologne Centurions for the 2004 season.
The Scottish Claymores, one of the three teams added to the league in 1995, were also discontinued in 2004, and replaced by the Hamburg Sea Devils, being established for the 2005 season. With this change, five of the six teams in the league's final incarnation were from Germany, with one from the Netherlands, leading some of the league's detractors to refer to it as 'NFL Deutschland' or 'NFL Germany'; even speculating that the Admirals were only still in the Netherlands because they had won World Bowl XIII, and it wouldn't look good if the league moved its champions, or simply to justify its "European" identity by keeping one team outside the German borders. German teams, unsurprisingly, won all 7 World Bowl Championships between 1998 and 2004.
In 2005 the total attendance at the thirty games was 568,935, and the average attendance of 18,965 was the highest since 1992. On the other hand, TV contracts were canceled as a result of teams moving out of the countries they were based upon, such as the NFLEL deal with satellite TV platform Digital+ in Spain after the demise of the Barcelona Dragons.
In 2006, the league's schedule opened and closed one month earlier than normal because of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, which was played at four of the five German stadiums that hosted NFL Europa teams. Only the LTU Arena in Düsseldorf was not chosen to host World Cup matches, and that stadium hosted the World Bowl that year.
NFL Europa/Cessation of operations
|Wikinews has related news: NFL Europa ceases after 15 seasons|
On 11 September 2006, NFL Europe officially re-branded itself as NFL Europa to reflect the name of Europe in most European languages including Dutch and German. "NFL Europe" continued to be used informally in the United States, including for the league's English-language website, nfleurope.com.
On 29 June 2007, NFL officials announced that the NFL Europa league would be disbanded effective immediately. The announcement came less than a week after the Hamburg Sea Devils beat the Frankfurt Galaxy 37–28 in World Bowl XV in Frankfurt in front of a crowd of 48,125.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell thanked the fans for their support but said it was time to develop a new international strategy, terming the move to fold NFL Europa the "best business decision". The league reportedly was losing about $30 million a season.
ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli wrote after the league's disbandment in 2007, "Recently, the European league became far less a laboratory for player development and more an exercise in amassing exemptions for NFL summer training camps. [...] there weren't many [NFL] team officials who adhered to the original intent anymore."
Pasquarelli also named J.T. O'Sullivan as the best 2007 NFL Europa player, at a time when O'Sullivan was no better than third-choice quarterback at the Chicago Bears. According to Pasquarelli, NFL Europe and NFL Europa "simply stopped producing players with even scant name recognition", and most coaches would prefer to develop their players themselves.
The NFL announced plans for a "stronger international focus on regular-season games outside the United States". The NFL International Series began in October 2007 at Wembley, London, and continues today. The Bills Toronto Series started in 2008. However, no mainland European country has hosted any NFL games for 20 years, since Germany hosted exhibition games from 1991–94.
|North American teams||Active|
|New York/New Jersey Knights||1991–92|
|San Antonio Riders||1991–92|
|Hamburg Sea Devils||2005–2007|
All competing teams, 1991–92:
The league existed in two forms – the 10-team transatlantic league in 1991 and 1992, then the six-team format in Europe only from 1995 to 2007.
The three European teams from 1991–92, Frankfurt, Barcelona and London, were the only original teams to continue playing when the league was resurrected in 1995. By 2007, only the Frankfurt Galaxy remained of the original WLAF teams.
The NFL has traditionally used a sudden death format for overtime. Regular season games have a single period of overtime during which the first team to score wins the game. If neither team scores, the game is declared a tie. In post-season games, overtime is extended indefinitely until one team scores. In NFL Europa, however, the overtime period lasted for 10 minutes with the requirement that each team must have the opportunity of possession at least once. So, in NFL Europa, it was possible for one team to score in overtime then have to kick-off to the opponent and give them a chance to either equalize or win the game. The winner was the team with the highest score after both teams had had possession. If the score was even after the second team's possession, the overtime would continue as sudden death. If still tied after 10 minutes, the game ends as a tie. Only two games ever remained tied after overtime in WLAF/NFL Europa history: London Monarchs versus Rhein Fire in Week 4 of the 1992 season, and Berlin Thunder at Hamburg Sea Devils, on 1 April 2006. The score of both games was 17–17. The NFL itself would later use similar rules for overtime possession, but sudden death would still apply if one team scores a touchdown, rather than a field goal, on their first possession.
With association football (or soccer) being the traditionally popular sport in Europe and American football being a relative newcomer, the rules were changed slightly to encourage a greater element of kicking which was intended to make the game more enjoyable for soccer and rugby fans. The league did this by awarding four points to field goals of more than 50 yards, as opposed to three points in the NFL. This had the interesting side-effect that a touchdown and point-after lead (seven points) could be equaled by one regular field goal (three points) along with a long field goal (four points).
In the 1995 season, in every team's home games, at least seven "local" players had to be playing or on the bench (three locals in away games). In the years before 2006, each team had to field at least one player of non-American extraction, called a "national" player, on every down of every other series. In 2006 the rule was changed to every series. In addition to European players a number of Mexican and Japanese players played as national players. Up until the 2004 season, kicked conversion attempts and short field goals were attempted by national players. Since there are few European players who have had the chance to compete at a level comparable to U.S. college football and the NFL, many, if not most, of the European players ended up as kickers.
Notable national players included Scott McCready, an English wide receiver who played some preseason games for the New England Patriots; the Claymores' wide receiver Scott Couper, who played a pre-season game for the Chicago Bears; Constantin Ritzmann, a German defensive end who had played for the University of Tennessee; and Rob Hart, an English rugby player who became a placekicker and kicked barefoot.
Running back Victor Ebubedike played for the Monarchs from 1991–98, becoming the first Brit to score in the World League in 1991. Ex-Tottenham Hotspur striker Clive Allen also kicked for the Monarchs, while fellow footballers Jesús Angoy, Manfred Burgsmüller and Silvio Diliberto kicked for the Barcelona Dragons, Rhein Fire and Amsterdam Admirals respectively.
The 1995 WLAF relaunch featured uniforms with a significantly different look from what is traditionally associated with American football. Instead of the full-size numbers centred on the front of the jersey, the team logos took precedence, with a smaller number over the right collarbone area. The Monarchs reverted to the traditional look in 1997 and the rest of the league followed a year later. The 1998 uniform designs were "thought to appeal to Continental tastes".
USA Network carried most of the WLAF games on Saturday and Monday nights in the 1991 season and again on Saturday nights for the 1992 season. Diana Nyad served as the network's host for pregame and halftime. The network premiered the helmet cam to TV audiences.
The reported cost of the contracts varied – the L.A. Times said that ABC had paid $28m for two years, and USA $25m. For the 1992 season the WLAF charged each network less for broadcasting rights; The New York Times reported that ABC's annual fee went down from $12m to $3m, and USA's from $14m to $10m. The ABC coverage's average ratings fell from 1991 to 1992, from around 2.1 to 1.7, and USA's from 1.2 to 1.1. Both networks asked the WLAF to expand into two major U.S. markets for 1993.
1991 season coverage in Europe was mostly on satellite. Eurosport showed games on delay and Super Channel showed the 1991 World Bowl. Channel 4 showed half-hour highlights of Monarchs games on Saturday mornings. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Larry Eichel wrote, "The only way a Monarchs fan could watch the team's first-round playoff game from the Meadowlands was to go to Wembley to see it on closed circuit."
Coverage in Canada was led by RDS, a French-language broadcaster, which focused on Montreal Machine games.
Although the league no longer had any U.S. teams, American television coverage continued until the end. Fox Sports had become a co-owner of the league, and from 1995 to 1998 the primary TV carrier was FX, which carried two games a week, on Saturday and Sunday. From 1995 to 2005, Fox showed the World Bowl and two or three regular season games annually. From 1999 to 2004, Fox Sports Net showed a "game of the week" on Saturday, with DirecTV viewers receiving additional live games on channels that normally carried NFL Sunday Ticket. In 2005, NFL Network began showing all regular season games, either live or on tape delay, and this continued until the league folded. NFL Network also showed the 2006 and 2007 title games.
The revived WLAF's UK coverage was mainly on Sky Sports, with coverage also on Channel 4, STV, and Carlton. Eight European continental broadcasters also showed coverage, including Germany's Vox and DSF.
EuroPass, an offshoot of FieldPass, broadcast Internet video of games, free of charge, in the league's later years.
North America (1991–1992 unless stated)
|Birmingham Fire||Legion Field, Birmingham, Alabama||83,091|
|Montreal Machine||Olympic Stadium, Montreal, Quebec||65,255|
|New York/New Jersey Knights||Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey||76,891|
|Ohio Glory (1992)||Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio||91,470|
|Raleigh–Durham Skyhawks (1991)||Carter–Finley Stadium, Raleigh, North Carolina||47,000|
|Orlando Thunder||Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida||65,438|
|Sacramento Surge||Charles C. Hughes Stadium, Sacramento, California (1991)||20,311|
|Hornet Stadium (Sacramento) (1992)||21,195/26,000 with temporary seating for Surge games|
|San Antonio Riders||Alamo Stadium, San Antonio, Texas (1991)||23,000|
|Bobcat Stadium, San Marcos, Texas (1992)||16,000 aprox|
|Team||Year 2005||Year 2006||Year 2007|
|Hamburg Sea Devils||
Notes and references
- SMITH, TIMOTHY W. (May 7, 1992). "World League vs. N.F.L., In a Board Room, That Is". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
- The abbreviation "World League" was often used in field signs/ads/merchandise/books in 1991 and 1992, but "World League of American Football" was often used on TV and posters in 1995, 1996 and 1997
- Pasquarelli, Len (29 June 2007). "NFL Europa failed to produce players, profits". ESPN.com. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
- "NFL Europa to cease operations". NFL.com. 29 June 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-07-01. Retrieved 2007-06-29.
- Mark L. Ford and Massimo Foglio. "THE FIRST “NFL EUROPE”". THE COFFIN CORNER: Vol. 27, No. 6 (2005). Pro Football Researchers. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
- Dufresne, Chris (May 21, 1991). "Europe Takes to WLAF, but Will It Catch On Here?". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
- Stellino, Vito (April 7, 1991). "WLAF attendance surpassing early hopes in Europe and Canada". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
- "Chicago Bears install helmet cameras to study quarterback play at rookie camp". Sports Illustrated. 2013-05-11. Retrieved 2013-05-111. "The World League of American Football used similar cameras as part of its game broadcasts in the 1990s"
- "League History". WLAF. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
- Eichel, Larry (June 8, 1991). "In Europe, WLAF's Game Was More Than Football". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
- "WLAF History: 1991". WLAF. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
- Dufresne, Chris (May 21, 1991). "Europe Takes to WLAF, but Will It Catch On Here? [Page 2]". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
- Greene, Jerry (June 5, 1992). "Bailey: World League 'Will Be Back'". Retrieved 27 May 2014.
- "NFL owners disband World League". The Independent. 18 September 1992. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
- Tench, Matt (19 September 1992). "End of the World League (1992)". The Independent. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
- "Sporting Digest: American Football". The Independent. 22 July 1994. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
- Elliott, Keith (26 March 1993). "Plan for smaller World League". The Independent. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
- O'Hagan, Simon (26 March 1995). "Monarchs seek to rule the world". The Independent. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
- Carter, Meg (15 January 1995). "Media: Sports sponsors play for a bigger stake in the game". The Independent. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
- Halling, Nick (19 June 1995). "WLAF to build on a fitting finale". The Independent. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
- "Monarchs to play at Spurs". 24 August 1994. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
- "London Monarchs to play World League matches at Stamford Bridge". The Independent. 13 December 1996. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
- "WORLD CLASS: OTHER WORLD LEAGUERS MAKING A LIVING IN THE NFL". The Independent. 4 November 1996. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
- Halling, Nick (24 June 1997). "World League set fair for future". The Independent. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
- "World League's big chance". The Independent. 11 April 1996. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
- Tench, Matt (11 April 1996). "What's in The Fridge?". The Independent. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
- Halling, Nick (10 April 1996). "Hastings ready for his big kick-off". The Independent. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
- Halling, Nick (3 April 1998). "Monarchs look to wider market as World League adopts new identity". The Independent. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
- "Sporting Digest: American football (Monarchs name change)". The Independent. 8 October 1997. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
- Starcevic, Nesha (29 June 2007). "NFL Europa Folds After 16 Years". Washington Post. Retrieved 25 May 2014.
- Associated Press. "NFL folds Europe league, to focus on regular-season games abroad". ESPN. Retrieved 25 August 2014.
- Europass: Unusual tie is Thunder's gain NFL.com. Accessed 29 June 2007.
- O'Hagan, Simon (21 May 1995). "Monarchs in a grid-locked state". The Independent. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
- McGROARTY, FRANK (Apr 18, 1999). "Our Brave Hart". Sunday Mirror. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
- Halling, Nick (17 April 1995). "Ebubedike excels for the Monarchs". The Independent. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
- "Allen tackles gridiron goal". The Independent. 7 February 1997. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
- Halling, Nick (12 May 1997). "Allen puts Monarchs back on target". The Independent. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
- Bandini, Paolo (5 August 2009). "Which football team has the most sponsors' logos on their kit?". theguardian.com (Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 26 September 2013.
- World League of American Football/National Football League Europe Uniforms
- Halling, Nick (13 April 1996). "Three-pronged attack in quest for credibility". The Independent. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to NFL Europe.|
- National Football League International Series
- World Bowl
- European Football League
- List of leagues of American football
- Sports league attendances
- Historical site index for WLAF and NFL Europe/Europa
- WLAF and NFL Europe/Europa history at The Football Database
- MacGille's World League of American Football website: http://www.worldleagueofamericanfootball.com
- Natures Images Photography - Photos of the Frankfurt Galaxy home games: http://www.frankfurt-galaxy.eu
- Lee's Autograph Hall of Fame - Photos of a San Antonio Riders home game with team history: http://lee.n8d.com/?p=1336