Last week the latest batch of International series games were announced. After an underwhelming slate of games in 2017, the batch of games in 2018 looks a lot more exciting. The Super Bowl bound Philadelphia Eagles will visit Wembley to play the Jacksonville Jaguars who beaten in the AFC championship game whilst the Tennessee Titans will play the Lose Angeles Chargers. In addition to this, there is excitement in the air for the first visit of the Seattle Seahawks who will play the Oakland Raiders at the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium. It will be the first game in a 10 year agreement at the new stadium which has helped to secure the future of the international series but also has people again dreaming of an NFL franchise taking permanent residence in London.
When the Jaguars host the Eagles in October it will be the sixth straight year they have hosted a game in London. In 2012 Jacksonville owner Shahid Khan signed an agreement to play a home game in London every year and will until 2020. The Jaguars have steadily seen their support in the UK grow due to being a regular component of the international series but also due to their commitment to growing the sport in schools. The Jaguars introduced the Jag Tag program that gives children aged between 8 and 13 exposure to flag football. Also for the first time every Jacksonville Jaguars game is live on national radio here in the UK. A suggestion that would have seemed niche at best a decade ago now demonstrates the growth of the game here.
With each passing year, it seems a little more likely that an NFL franchise could come to the UK and all signs suggest if it does happen it could be the Jaguars due to reasons mentioned early. The idea of an NFL franchise in the UK would be exciting but I have had some reservations about the support the franchise would get. I have no doubt that there would be high attendances for every game but would the majority of the stadium be supporting the home team. Every team in the NFL has supporters in the UK and this can be best demonstrated during the International series when you see all 32 NFL franchises represented. Would many of these fans change allegiance and back the new UK franchise? Ben Isaacs who often contributes on Talksport gave me his opinion, “I’m not sure people like me who’ve been watching since the 1980s would switch teams but I’m sure a decent number (provided they had the disposable income for a season ticket) would want to go to watch a London franchise. Also most of the fans in the UK right now are relatively new. The attachments they have won’t be as deep as for people like me and for many of them they’d certainly switch to a London team.” The point Ben makes is a good one with regards to the relatively new fan base and it backs up the Jaguars strategy to connect with new fans like the previously mentioned Jag-Tag and also a growing connection with the media to gain a whole new audience.
Over the last decade the UK has demonstrated the sports growing popularity with crowds regularly exceeding 80,000 and the media coverage has regularly grown. There are two shows a week on the BBC showing highlights and providing a range of analysis. There is the regularly coverage of all the games on Sky Sports and weekly radio shows such as the one on Talksport which bring detailed analysis to fans old and new. However, the biggest demonstration that a franchise could work in London and gain mainstream attention is the deal struck by Talksport this year. Every Jaguars game is live on national radio and it gives new fans to the sport an opportunity to have more coverage than ever before and especially British based NFL coverage. Ben agreed that the media would play a big part in a franchise in the UK being successful in terms of growing the fan base and support for the game. “The media here would push a UK franchise hard. NFL UK would make any London team the focus. Right now we get a full spread of teams covered, skewed each season to the ones winning the most games. If a London team arrived the UK would become a very different market. It would be London and the rest of the league. They would have saturation coverage. The NFL is gaining thousands of new young fans every year and they would gravitate to a home team – it’s only natural”.
The last comment from Ben struck a chord. From a selfish point of view, I see a UK based franchise as an opportunity for me to view more NFL games live and especially the Bears but for thousands of new fans that are discovering the game each year an opportunity to support a team they can see 8 times a year, with more coverage than ever before, with UK players such as Jay Ajayi set to appear in the Super Bowl, there is more reason than ever before to be excited about the NFL in the UK, It is going from strength to strength and whilst I will always be a Chicago Bears fan, the day a franchise arrives in the UK will be a day for all supporters of all teams in the UK to celebrate.