Leeds United’s San Francisco 49ers investment - lessons from the NFL’s relationship with the Premier League

When it comes to the NFL in English football, there are salutary lessons to be had wherever you look.
The San Francisco 49ers reached last year's Super Bowl (Picture: AP Photo/Seth Wenig)The San Francisco 49ers reached last year's Super Bowl (Picture: AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
The San Francisco 49ers reached last year's Super Bowl (Picture: AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Whether that be the state-of-the-art Tottenham Hotspur Stadium that has a retractable pitch built into it purely to host NFL games twice a year.

Or along the M62 to Manchester, where the Whites’ most despised rivals Manchester United have been owned by members of the NFL establishment for nearly two decades.

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Fans of the Red Devils would have been forgiven a shake of the head on Sunday night when their owner Joel Glazer was seen accepting the NFC Championship trophy after his Tampa Bay Buccaneers reached the Super Bowl. When Manchester United were winning trophies, the Glazers were conspicuous by their absence.

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London hasa retractable pitch to host NFL games (Picture: Steven Paston/PA Wire)Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London hasa retractable pitch to host NFL games (Picture: Steven Paston/PA Wire)
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London hasa retractable pitch to host NFL games (Picture: Steven Paston/PA Wire)

England, and particularly the Premier League, has long been a vessel for the NFL’s global brand expansion.

Manchester United fans have long felt their club is merely a money-making machine for the Glazer family.

There is a section of the Arsenal support that feels the same about their NFL owners. Stan Kroenke of the then St Louis Rams bought into Arsenal in 2007 and took his shareholding to 100 per cent in 2018. The Gunners have won a few FA Cups on his watch, but he is known as ‘Silent Stan’ because the fans rarely hear from him.

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Shahid Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, bought Fulham in 2013 and while not bringing sustained success to the club, has brought Premier League football, nearly bought Wembley Stadium and does nothing to quell rumours that he will relocate his Jaguars team to London.

Randy Lerner owned the Cleveland Browns, one of the least successful franchises in the Super Bowl era, when he bought Aston Villa in 2006.

He sold the Midlands club in 2016 after the club’s relegation from the Premier League following six years of decline in which a lack of investment from Lerner took Villa from top-six challengers to the Championship.

So for a Leeds United fan the landscape is rather hit and miss.

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If an owner is engaged with the fanbase, seen to be investing in the club and in the playing resources, then the acceptance from the terraces is warmer, a benefit of doubt is afforded if things turn sour.

If an owner is disengaged and puts little time and money into the club, then when results do begin to spiral, the ire of the support is directed ‘across the pond’.

Such reactions are not exclusive to investment from the NFL. Owners and investors know the territory.

What Leeds fans will want from the 49ers is money coming into the club, first and foremost to improve the first-team squad, to equip them to be competitive in the here and now, and the future.

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The San Francisco 49ers are a storied NFL franchise, one of the most successful - and marketable - in the sport’s history.

They have a new state-of-the-art stadium of their own, and have always had the image of being a well-run operation, putting success on the field at the heart of what they do.

Their intentions since they came into Leeds United three years ago appear genuine. The proof will be in the level of investment.

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