The National Football League is expanding its International Series, adding a second game in London's Wembley Stadium during the 2013 season, the league announced on Tuesday. It will be the first time that London has played host to two NFL games in the same season.
On Oct. 11, 2012, the NFL had previously announced a game between the Jacksonville Jaguars, who will be the home team, and the San Francisco 49ers, which is scheduled for Oct. 27, 2013. The Jaguars have agreed to play four home games in London between 2013 and 2016, replacing the St. Louis Rams, who backed out of a three-year commitment to London in order to focus on reaching a new stadium deal in St. Louis. The Rams will host the New England Patriots at Wembley Stadium on Oct. 28, 2012.
On Tuesday, the league added a game between the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 29, 2013. The Vikings, who will be in the process of building a new stadium, will be the home team.
"Since we started playing regular-season games in London five years ago, we have heard very clearly from our UK fans — they want more football." NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said from the owner meetings in Chicago. "We are excited to play two games in London and take this next step in the growth of our game. We believe that more football will lead to more fans."
Adding a second game in the United Kingdom has been a goal of Goodell's for quite some time. As initially reported by Daniel Kaplan of the SportsBusiness Journal following a Sept. 27, 2011 press conference to announce that New York/New Jersey would host Super Bowl XLVIII, Goodell had hoped to have a second game in the United Kingdom for the 2012 season.
With Steelers chairman emeritus Dan Rooney serving as the United States Ambassador to Ireland, the NFL has considered bringing a regular-season game to the Emerald Isle, but the focus appears to be centered on London, a city the league hopes may become a viable option for a full-time franchise.
"Again, if we can play multiple regular-season games there, that gives you a better opportunity to be successful if you choose to put a franchise in London," Goodell said. "But again, that is the other reason for putting two games in London — we are trying to build that fan base in London. We welcome the fans coming from other parts of Europe. But this is a way to really build that fan base right now in London, which will be critical if you did have a franchise there."
Building and expanding a fan base in London is a great idea, but putting a full-time franchise overseas makes little or no sense.
For starters, that franchise is going to have a difficult time attracting free agents; 40.6 percent of the 1,691 players on NFL rosters at the beginning of the season were from California, Texas, Florida or Georgia. Good luck getting players to move 4,000 to 6,000 miles and across an ocean. (Some players may not even know where London is.) That is, of course, if the team is even based in London. It would make more sense from an operations standpoint -- road travel, signing free agents, adding players during the season, etc... -- for a franchise to set up a base on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States and pop over to London during game weeks. But if that's the case, that franchise will have to board a plane before every game, and will surely struggle to build a real connection to the city of London that it needs to be a success.
In other words, let's get Los Angeles a team (or two) before we jump the pond.