The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, also known as the Bucs, became the twenty-seventh franchise in the National Football League in April 1976. The team got off to a rough start with the inability to pass the ball, play defense, and most importantly, put points on the scoreboard. They became the first team in NFL history to lose all fourteen regular season games, which caused many excited fans to immediately lose faith. The organization knew it had to make some adjustments or success was doomed. The franchise finally underwent transformations in 1995, 1997, and 2002. The most recent changes have been deemed a success, helping the franchise become one of the most profitable in the league. The job is not over quite yet; there is plenty to do as the brand is monitored and grows even larger.
I want both [London and LA], but it doesn’t matter which one is first.”
It’s been almost two decades since the Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams called L.A. home. The NFL Draft may be held in the City of Angels next year, but residents shouldn’t get too excited too soon because London will have a team first.
The league is just putting a lot of emphasis on playing abroad. Goodell said this to a crowd of fans in Europe last October:
We are making sure we can bring more football to more people. The UK fans have been terrific. Seeing over 500,000 people the day before the game at a rally is really extraordinary. It is a signal that there is real interest in our game internationally.”
The NFL has gradually increased the number of International Series games at Wembley Stadium since 2007; this year there will be three games. There’s even talk they could play four games next year and five games in 2016. As Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker pointed out, L.A. has no games scheduled.
London is a new market with a ton of potential. Europeans haven’t been overexposed to American football, so they are loving every minute of it. Every game at Wembley has sold-out and television ratings in England keep increasing.
Here’s another factor: London has a population of 8.3 million, while Los Angeles only has 3.8 million. That’s 4.5 million more wallets the league can try to open up — and that doesn’t even consider the folks who live elsewhere in Europe who are also interested in the NFL.
As the L.A. Times explained, staying out of L.A. may be the best move for right now:
This market has already lost two teams, and three if you count the short-lived L.A. Chargers. In that sense, it’s about as rock-solid reliable as a Hollywood marriage.”
Here’s the biggest hang-up: League officials have made it clear that L.A. lacks the proper stadium to house a team. Even experts have weighed in:
The political structure with funding stadiums is horrendous in the state of California. The other big challenge from having lived down in LA is the amount of transplants that live there.”
“But like [Roger] said, the most important thing is to have the right facility. You have so many choices in L.A. of things to do. And the weather is great; the people are great. If you don’t have something really compelling, people won’t be there all the time.”
Here’s another hint at what’s to come: NFL officials have confirmed they’re shopping around for a new venue in London when the contract with Wembley expires in two years. Check out this previous blog post for more on that.
At least Goodell has given a timetable on when to expect an expansion across the Atlantic Ocean:
We actually couldn’t be more surprised by the tremendous demand for NFL football in London, in the UK in general, and frankly in Europe. So it’s not something that I think is 15 or 20 years away. It could be five or 10 years away.”
When you compile all the obvious signs, the NFL has made it pretty clear that it wants to get to Europe tomorrow. That’s the first item on their agenda. Plus, they’d become the only American professional sports league to have a team based in Europe. Maybe after they complete the task, then they can work on getting a franchise in L.A.
Thirteen teams have played at Wembley Stadium since the NFL International Series started in 2007. The New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have each played there twice. The Jacksonville Jaguars played their first game in London last fall, and they will continue to play one game a year there through 2016.
If the NFL establishes a team in Europe, more than likely it is going to be the Jaguars.
In the course of the next four years we’ll see if the fans are ready for more than one game. Time will tell.”
“We want the Jaguars to develop fans over here and the Jaguars to be seen as London’s team but my feelings and aspirations are to make it work in Jacksonville.”
Goodwell also told Sports Journalists Association lunch last October:
But we want to create success here. It depends on fan support continuing to grow. [If] at some point in time it will become obvious a team here could be successful then we have to figure out other issues. Like which team, or teams.”
Goodell and Khan are making it so obvious, even The Onion wrote a spoof news story about the NFL announcing the team would play 16 games in London — eight as the home team and eight as the away team. The website even said the players would wear limited edition uniforms with special colors and logo.
All joking aside, here are a few reasons Khan and the NFL may use to justify moving the organization to the United Kingdom for a fresh start:
- The team is one of the least popular in the league, but its popularity is growing outside the United States.
- Jacksonville has 837,000 residents; London has 8.3 million.
- The team hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2007.
- The team’s regular season record is 144-160.
- The organization have a hard time filling the 70,000 seat EverBank Field. Wembley Stadium has 90,000 seats, and the Jaguars game there last year was attended by 83,559.
- The UK-based fan club, Union Jax, has 23,000 members.
- Khan is familiar with the London-market since he owns the Fulham F.C. soccer team.
Even former quarterback Mark Brunell told First Coast News he believes it’ll happen:
We have an owner in Shad Khan that bought the soccer team over there and all indications are that we’re headed that way. It’s not good for Jacksonville. You don’t hear a lot of that talk in Jacksonville right now, but everywhere else . . . someone mentioned the other day that it’s the Jacksonville Jaguars of London.”
A few other names have been thrown around as possibly heading across the pond, like the San Diego Chargers, but the Jaguars seem to be the “it team.” Khan continues to say he is dedicated to making the team succeed in Jacksonville.
Should the Jaguars further test the London-market by spending half their season in the U.S. and the other half in the UK? Stayed tuned — that’s next!