The NFL's presence in London continues to grow. To the point where you have to wonder when a full-time franchise exists there.
After single-game experiments overseas for several seasons and a two-game slate this year, one of which already has been played, the NFL has announced today at the Fall Meeting that there will be three regular-season games in the United Kingdom in 2o14.
Surrendering single games to call Wembley Stadium their home for a week will be the Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders and Atlanta Falcons. It is not yet known who their opponents will be.
“Our fans in the UK have continued to demonstrate that they love football and want more,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a press release. “Both of this year’s games in London sold out quickly. The fan enthusiasm for our sport continues to grow. By playing two games in the UK this year, we are creating more fans. We hope that with three games in London next year we will attract even more people to our game.”
TV ratings, the league touts, have skyrocketed in the UK since 2006 – with Sunday viewership of NFL games nearly doubling and the Super Bowl audience up by 75 percent. The league also boasts of having "developed new and stronger business partnerships" overseas.
The teams giving up the home games don't like it, frankly, and it's no less convenient to ship a West Coast team across the pond. The Raiders will be the third California team to play in the game, joining the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers.
Season-ticket holders also have a beef — they lose a game they ordinarily can drive to. Yet the NFL continues to expand the series.
It's clear the league wants to test the viability of a London franchise. Although other signals from Goodell and league officials the past few years make us believe that Los Angeles is more likely to receive a franchise sooner than London might, there always exists the possibility of more than one franchise changing cities as the league prefers to stick with the symmetry of 32 teams.
The Jaguars, who will play the San Francisco 49ers in London on Oct. 27 and continue to try to expand their popularity outside of north Florida, have been the team most likely to be shipped over there one day. They will have games in each of the next four seasons, including this one.
“The experience the Jaguars have had already in London has been every bit what we anticipated and more, and this is all before we've even played our first game in Wembley Stadium,” said Jaguars owner Shad Khan. “We made the right decision to commit to playing a home game in London each season through 2016. The Jaguars have a broader worldwide fan base today and the anticipation for our London game later this month is shared by our loyal fans in Jacksonville, so it’s a perfect scenario for everyone. The energy and appetite for the NFL in the UK is incredible. The Raiders and Falcons will see for themselves next season.”
But while Khan says that, we can't help but think this:
Wondering if the NFL (and Jaguars owner Shad Khan) would rather have a team in London than in Jacksonville...
— Andrew Brandt (@adbrandt) October 8, 2013
Time will tell. London is one step closer to having an NFL team, although we're likely at least five years removed from that happening.