The last time the Denver Broncos came to Europe was October 31, 2010, the fourth straight year the NFL had played at the home of English football.
The Broncos were hosted by the San Francisco 49ers at Wembley. Both teams had struggled to 8-8 records in 2009, both missed the playoffs.
Josh McDaniels was still the Broncos head coach. Kyle Orton was the starting quarterback. Tim Tebow had a cameo with a one-yard touchdown run. Brandon Lloyd had a day with 169 yards and a touchdown off seven receptions, while Demaryius Thomas — who was just a rookie and on kick return duties — put up 114 yards on five returns and hauled in his only target on offense for a 31-yard game.
Wembley was 83,941 strong, Orton was 28-40 for 370 yards, one touchdown and an interception, but the Broncos lost to Troy Smith, who had a rushing touchdown and was 12-19 for 196 yards and a touchdown to Michael Crabtree, and Frank Gore, who ran for 119 yards and a score off 29 attempts.
It was an all-round disappointing season for the Broncos as they slumped to a 4-12 record, which included a 24-16 defeat to the 49ers and the McDaniels scandal, which saw his tenure ended early.
Under Pat Bowlen’s vision, the Broncos have always been keen to play internationally, but giving up home-field advantage isn’t likely any time soon.
So, which of the Broncos’ 2018 opponents could be willing to host them again in London as rumours and fake posters flood in the internet?
Los Angeles Chargers (AFC West)
When the team moved from San Diego to Los Angeles in 2017, their plan was plan to move to Inglewood and the Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park, upon its scheduled opening in 2020. In the meantime, the 27,000-capacity StubHub Center became their temporary home.
Despite being half the capacity of the least populated NFL stadiums, the relocated Chargers have struggled to fill the venue with Chargers fans, with many away teams’ fans dominating.
According to ESPN the Chargers and Rams will probably play a home game abroad every season until the completion of the proposed Los Angeles project as part of their relocation agreement with the NFL.
Of the Broncos’ road opponents in 2018, the Chargers are the team most likely to host the team in London, which would give the LA team a welcome financial boost even if the game is held at Tottenham Hotspur’s as-yet unfinished new 61,500-capacity home, in which the NFL has invested a reported $12.8m.
Divisional games have occurred in London before with the NFL making overtures to provide both London fans and those watching on TV better match-ups after a slew of disappointing games.
The first divisional game was in 2016 when the Jacksonville Jaguars hosted the Indianapolis Colts.
Next up we had Wade Phillips heading to Twickenham with the Rams hosting the Arizona Cardinals in 2017 — he even gave the game a cheeky plug on the 5280 Podcast.
A Broncos-Chargers game in London in 2018 would certainly draw in fans for an intriguing matchup between a resurgent Chargers and a rebuilding Broncos.
While the most likely option, it’s not certain the Chargers will come to London. Given San Diego’s proximity to Mexico, the Chargers could look to stage their international game closer to their former home, which would allow them to stay connected to their fans on both sides of the border and enjoy a proper home game.
If the AFC West matchup were to happen in London — and our money is on it happening –it would likely take place in the 18:00 BST/GMT (11:00 MST/MT, 13:00 EST/ET) time slot as was the case with the NFC West game.
Wouldn’t put money on it
New York Jets (AFC East)
The Jets are no stranger to London and are a team undergoing a reboot, but continue to enjoy high attendances at MetLife. A return to Europe to get a brief respite from the New York-New Jersey goldfish bowl could be welcome. There’s be an outside chance that this could happen, because you know the NFL likes to give us weird matchups that don’t look like they’d work.
San Francisco 49ers (NFC West)
One of the UK’s best supported NFL teams, with a large older fan base due to their frequent appearances on British television during their glory years in the 80s, the 49ers would certainly draw in the crowds, but with fans rallying behind the the team in the John Lynch-Kyle Shanahan-Jimmy G era, it might be too soon to see them give up a game in Santa Clara.
Oakland Raiders (AFC West)
Their history and reputation means the Raiders are well-supported this side of the pond and their crazy fans are always out in force whether the team is in London or not.
With their relocation to Las Vegas well under way, the Raiders have taken games to Mexico City in 2016 and 2017 where they also enjoy a large following.
It’s difficult to see them giving that up for a much longer trip to Europe against a fierce rival, unless the Chargers — or another team — hosts a game in Mexico, or the NFL increases the number of games in Mexico in 2018.
Cincinnati Bengals (AFC North)
Cincinnati were a road team in 2016 when they helped create history with the first ever tie in a thrilling game with the Washington Redskins. Have struggled to keep pace with Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the AFC North, but it would be a surprise if they brought over the Broncos despite having the lowest attendances (425,937 total, 53,242 average, 81.3% capacity) across the league that weren’t at StubHub Center.
What are you smoking?
Baltimore Ravens (AFC North)
The Ravens fans were out in force for their trip to Wembley in 2017, and we had the pleasure of meeting several Baltimore natives before and after the game on what many described as “a trip of a lifetime”. Blown out by the Jaguars, and aren’t going to give up a home game to head back so soon.
Arizona Cardinals (NFC West)
The Cardinals were blown out by the Rams at Twickenham in 2017 and likely won’t give up the home comforts of their domed stadium in the desert to bring the Broncos to London in the same year they’ll have a new head coach and quarterback following the retirements of Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer.
Kansas City Chiefs (AFC West)
Just not going to happen. With one of the loudest crowds in all of sports and a beasting home record at Arrowhead, they’re not going to give up a home game against one of their closest rivals. Would be a great matchup for London, but we can’t see this ever happening. We know Arrowhead Abroad will be disappointed too.
Pat Bowlen’s Overseas Legacy
The Broncos played a pre-season American Bowl game in London in 1987.
Not content with the UK, the Broncos have also played in Barcelona, Berlin, Mexico City, Tokyo and Sydney over the years.
Majority owner Pat Bowlen spoke about the overseas movement in 2010 after the announcement that the Broncos would play the 49ers.
“To play a regular-season game overseas is truly special,” Bowlen said. “It’s a wonderful, historic opportunity for our franchise and will be an unforgettable experience for our players, coaches and fans.
“I‘m excited for the game in London and am thrilled that the Broncos will be part of the NFL’s continued international growth.”
The Denver Broncos enjoy a large fanbase the length and breadth of Europe. Since their last visit to London in 2010, the franchise has enjoyed two visits to a Super Bowl, winning a championship, and picking up scores of new fans along the way.
With the sport’s popularity growing in Europe, there can be no doubt that the team’s glory days with Peyton Manning under center has helped bring through a new cohort of supporters around the world eager to see their team without travelling more than 10 hours to Denver.
Broncos Europe has hosted a number of successful meet-ups around Europe, while other groups such as Denver Broncos Germany have also hosted successful meet-ups, including a special appearance from Broncos fan and rapper The Mad Fanatic.
The attendance and fan interaction at these events and around social media in general shows that there is a passionate fanbase present in Europe. This would allow for a memorable occasion if the team were to return in 2018 to London.
Opinion in Denver
Michael Spencer, CBS Denver
“I think an AFC divisional game in London would be great,” Spencer told Broncos Europe.
“The Broncos obviously have a lot of fans over in Europe and given that, plus the fact that it’s been since 2010 that the Broncos made a trip across the pond, a trip in the upcoming season would make a lot of sense.
“I don’t know how the players and coaches would feel about the travel component, but from a league perspective having a team that would be three years removed from a Super Bowl make an appearance in London seems to make a lot of sense.”
Vic Lombardi, Altitude Sports
“When I was in London when the Broncos played the 49ers there…that week in London was my greatest week of a sporting event I’ve ever enjoyed,” Lombardi told the 5280 Podcast.
“I love that town. Being there for that week was so much fun and I had no idea the NFL was that vastly popular overseas, I learned a lot being there that week.
“Oakland in the next few years, now they’ve told their fanbase they’re leaving, they can afford to go play a home game in London without any ramifications from the fans, and so can [the Chargers]. That’s a great opportunity for the Broncos to visit. I’m all for it.”
Overall, the prospect of the Broncos returning to London to play as an away team in 2018 is an exciting prospect for fans in Europe and beyond.
However, is it what this franchise needs at this point in time?
A significant improvement is needed from the team. With potentially no bye week after a London game and another tough schedule, Broncos fans in Colorado may not want a divisional game played overseas.
An announcement is expected from NFLUK in January. Now, we play the waiting game.