On Tuesday, the Jacksonville Jaguars announced that they plan to start playing one game a year in London for the 2013-16 NFL seasons. Owner Shad Khan, who is looking to bring more exposure to the city and the franchise, believes that the Jaguars can build a strong international following by regularly playing games overseas.
The matchups will count as Jaguars home games, meaning that the team will only play seven games a year at Everbank Field instead of the normal eight games at every other NFL stadium.
Many local fans are unhappy about this, but the benefits to the franchise greatly outweigh the negatives.
Advantage of playing in London
When the Jaguars play in London, they will have the privilege of playing in one of the most legendary venues in all of sports: Wembley Stadium, home of the English national team in soccer and host of major events like the World Cup and the 2012 Olympics. Few stadiums in the world have a greater presence on the world stage than Wembley, whose 90,000 capacity (86,000 for American football) makes it the second-largest in all of Europe.
The stadium also has a successful history of hosting NFL matchups, as the league has scheduled a late-October matchup in each of the last five seasons. The first four games were all near maximum capacity; last year's game was at just under 77k, though that was partially due to the uncertainty surrounding the game caused by the lockout.
In the past, the NFL has tried to mix up the teams a bit in order to give several different franchises a chance to gain exposure. However, this has also prevented any one team from building a significant following across the pond. This is why the Jaguars agreed to a four-year series, which will allow the franchise to build a significant rapport with the locals and build the brand of the franchise on an international level - which could give the team a significant long-term edge over the rest of the NFL.
At the same time, Jaguars fans back in Jacksonville should not have difficulty watching their favorite team on television. While London is five hours ahead, the games can easily be scheduled so that the East Coast of the United States can watch the game at a comfortable hour.
It is also important to remember that the Jaguars' attendance woes are a Legitimate concern for the NFL.
Jacksonville's attendance numbers are quite misleading; they averaged 62,331 at a 92.8% capacity, but the franchise artificially reduces the capacity of 76,000-seat Everbank Field down to 67,246 in order to avoid games from being blacked out on local television.
Attendance has risen considerably from 2009, when the Jags also averaged less than 50,000 per game as season ticket holders got hit hard by the recession. However, it is still a far cry from legitimately selling out the stadium without putting tarps over empty seats.
This is another reason why the London game works out for all parties: by offering packages of only seven home games instead of eight, the franchise can reduce the price of season tickets so that they are more affordable for Jacksonville residents. At the same time, the Jaguars get more international exposure and a unique opportunity to build a lasting fanbase overseas.
In short, everybody comes out ahead.