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Despite Question Marks, NFL Moving Forward in London

New Tottenham/NFL stadium

A close look at the NFL series in London raises some question marks, but the league is not planning to slow down its initiative. 

Going back to 2007, the NFL has used London as a springboard for its international efforts, but there has always been the question of whether the city can do more than host one or two games per year. While talks of a team permanently relocating to London has slowed down in recent years, venues such as Wembley Stadium, Twickenham Stadium, and the future Tottenham Stadium (shown above) are all expected to host regular season games in upcoming years.

As it stands, the NFL’s annual endeavors in London have not been profitable, as revenue streams within London–such as ticket sales and media rights–have not grown enough to cover the costs associated with playing the games in the city. NFL head of international development Mark Waller recently acknowledged these problems in an interview with Bloomberg, but said there are signs that the trend will change:

That’s going to change quickly, Waller said. By continuing to play games in London — and making them free to watch via the BBC — the NFL has succeeded in slowly building a fan base. Half of the fans who went to a game at Wembley last year had been to a previous football game, and one-third bought tickets to the full series.

With enough fans, Waller said, “media values go up, your sponsor values go up and the commercial side of the arrangement reaches scale.” As it is, the price of the U.K. media rights for the NFL has already doubled since the New York Giants beat the Miami Dolphins at Wembley in 2007, and Waller said they will be more valuable when they come up for bid again.
The BBC owns the rights to the London games and the Super Bowl for the next two years; Sky Sports will air the NFL’s U.S. games in the U.K. through 2019.
“If we continue on the path we are on, there will be no discussion about when the games break even,” said Waller, an Englishman. “If we were to double our media rights again, we would more than break even.”
What is a notable trend about London is the scheduling, as it it often seems that the same teams are featured. In recent years, the Jacksonville Jaguars have been a frequent site in London, and they will face the Indianapolis Colts this Sunday at Wembley Stadium. Owner Shad Khan’s investments in EverBank Field could bode well for the team’s longterm future in Jacksonville, despite the fact that the Jaguars were previously identified as a possible relocation option to London.

The Jaguars, however, continue to travel to London. In a separate piece on ESPN, Waller said that London fans do not seem to mind the frequency of the team’s appearances, and that the combination of the Jaguars, Los Angeles Rams, and Cincinnati Bengals as home teams has prompted interest this year:

Sure, we who can choose among the likes of the Patriots, Steelers, Packers and Broncos every week scoff at the idea that Britain keeps getting the Jaguars foisted on them. First of all, by the time this year’s London games are over, 14 NFL teams will have played there since the start of 2014. Second of all, British customers don’t seem at all turned off by the Jaguars. Waller says all three games this season have sold out, and there are almost 40,000 tickets purchased by people who are buying all three games. “So, mini-season ticket holders, if you will,” he said. The league polls fans who go to the games about their experience so it can address specific aspects and try to keep it fresh. Despite the less-than-stellar matchups, the average attendance in the 14 regular-season games that have been played in London has been 83,061.

If anything, the NFL’s direction is moving toward expanding international efforts, and is already looking to go beyond London. In November The Oakland Raiders will play a week 11 home game against the Houston Texans at Estadio Azteca, and the league is expected to seek additional locations over the coming years.

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August Publications