LONDON (AP) — With Germany in the fold and Spain in its sights, the NFL’s game plan in Europe becomes even more intriguing.
So it’s easy to overlook the old country-in-waiting: Britain.
London has been moving the channels since it hosted its first regular season game in 2007 and league officials remain at the forefront of the country even as they explore the continent for future host cities.
The league says there is still room to grow in Britain and has signaled its commitment by extending its deal to play “a minimum” of two games per season at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium until the 2029 season.
Six teams are also busy in Britain trying to expand their fan bases and secure commercial deals through the NFL’s global markets program.
London will host three straight games starting on Sunday, when the Jacksonville Jaguars take on the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium. The Jags remain to face the Buffalo Bills at Tottenham – the first time a team has played two games on the road in the same season.
It’s a far cry from the mudfest at Wembley in 2007, when the New York Giants beat the Miami Dolphins 13-10 in the first game in London.
“Rather than it seeming like it’s a traveling circus that comes to the UK and is relevant when there’s a game in London and then the Super Bowl, it really feels like the NFL is doing part of the sporting fabric of the United Kingdom,” said Henry Hodgson, the NFL’s chief executive for Great Britain.
League officials point to positive trends in television viewership. Long-time broadcast partner Sky Sports created a dedicated NFL channel in 2020 which added a wide range of programming to live matches shown in Britain and Ireland.
The first week of this season was the most-watched regular season Sunday in Sky Sports history, the league said.
Last year’s move from the BBC to ITV – which will broadcast two London games for free as well as a season highlights show for viewers – gave the NFL more control over the programming it shaped for ages 12 to 24.
“We think that’s where the opportunity lies to continue to grow the fan base in the UK,” Hodgson said.
The league said the NFL Academy TikTok channel had the highest engagement rate of its channels on the popular video-sharing app.
The NFL will not overtake the Premier League in popularity in Britain, but it claims to have 14 million fans, of which 3 million are considered “avid”. Comparable figures in Germany – which will host two matches in November – are 18 million and 3.3 million.
The results of a survey conducted by media consultancy Altman Solon indicate good consumer trends for the NFL in Britain. It showed that 28% of respondents said the NFL was in their top five favorite leagues; Germany comes in second with 21%.
“Both countries have a strong base of interest in the NFL product and their fans are showing a willingness to pay for NFL content,” said Matt Del Percio, director of Altman Solon.
No team has played in London more often than the Jaguars. Sunday’s match will be the 10th – all but one have been at Wembley.
“We consider London and Wembley our home away from Jacksonville,” said Maria Gigante, vice president of team operations in Great Britain.
The Jags are in the second of a three-year deal to play a ‘home’ game at Wembley. That aside from international play, teams must play on a rotation basis. The Jags’ Oct. 8 game against the Buffalo Bills at Tottenham will be hosted by the league.
Meanwhile, the Jags are in charge of their matches at Wembley, overseeing ticketing and hospitality in what they described as “considerably” more profitable than a typical game in Jacksonville.
The team’s 37-17 home loss to the Houston Texans drew 61,466 people to EverBank Stadium. Last year’s game at Wembley, a 21-17 loss to the Denver Broncos, was attended by 86,215 spectators – the largest number for a game in London – and they are expecting more on Sunday.
Jags owner Shad Khan, who also owns Premier League football club Fulham, previously attempted to buy Wembley from the English Football Association. Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy was among those opposed to the proposed sale.
The league gave Tottenham – where the football pitch retracts to make way for an artificial turf surface – status as the “home of the NFL in the UK”, but separately said that designation would not “have no impact” on future matches at Wembley, she said. described as “an important partner”.
“It’s great to have two fantastic stadiums in the UK, capable of hosting NFL games and venues that fans love to go to,” Hodgson said.
The Jags, who are hosting a “Jags Country” event in London on Thursday with Clint Black headlining, hope to continue playing at Wembley beyond 2024, but first need approval from the club’s owners. team.
Jacksonville has seven full-time staff in Britain and a growing database of 120,000 names – all compiled since 2018 after a privacy law forced companies to delete contacts.
“We have a pretty robust infrastructure here compared to teams that can just come to market and manage from the United States,” Gigante said. “We think there’s still a lot to do here.”
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