"Ladies and gentlemen, now taking the field . . . yyyyoooouuuurrr London Jaguars!"
With expansion into Europe moving up his list of Roger Goodell’s priorities, that sentence would be music to the NFL commissioner’s ears. And in the mind of one of the league’s more high-profile owners, a London-based franchise will soon be a reality.
And also just the beginning.
Atlanta owner Arthur Blank, whose Atlanta Falcons will play in one of three NFL regular-season games in London this coming season, told Peter King of MMQB.com this week that he believes the NFL is headed toward having a franchise located in London full-time, and ultimately additional franchises in Europe. And the time frame may be faster than anyone has anticipated:
"The games in London, I think are a tribute to the NFL, a tribute to the fans there, the quality of the game — and I think that it’s proved conclusive that fans will come out when they see the real players playing games that are really meaningful, as opposed to NFL Europe. So I think — and all three of the games for 2014 sold out immediately, 240,000 tickets — the league, as you know, has been in discussion about a fourth game, in discussion about games beyond that. There’s been discussion about potentially having a franchise in London. I’m very optimistic. The approach that the international committee and the commissioner have taken is, ‘Let’s do London right, and then move from there to potentially somewhere else.’ I’m sure there are wonderful cities in Europe, and elsewhere."
In terms of the league’s thinking to how expansion into Europe will unfold:
"I think it will start with an increased number of games. That will be translated into a very successful series of games, and eventually, I think a franchise. And maybe more than one. London’s a big city . . . I think eventually having that many games says that we really are playing a season in London, so we probably ought to have a team here. I think it will be a natural progression to a team."
And finally, how far away could this all be?
"Less than you’d think. The success has been remarkable, and I don’t see any reason why it’s going to slow down."
The NFL first played a regular-season game in London in 2007. Since then, there was one regular-season game in the city each season through 2012. Last season, there were to games that counted played in London, and this season there will be the three.
While Blank did not say which franchise could be the one on the move, the Jags have become the league’s de facto London team for the time being, agreeing to play one London game for four consecutive seasons. This will be Year 2 of that plan.
Additionally, Shad Khan, owner of the Jaguars, purchased Premier League club Fulham last summer, then shortly thereafter said this about owning a soccer team in England and American football team in Jacksonville:
"First of all, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham operate as two entities. Obviously, there would be some practices, some synergies we’d like to take advantage of. And the Jaguars will be playing one home game [in London] for the next four years. So, we are the home team for London. So, there is some commonality there."
Another wrinkle in this season’s scheduling to bring American football more in line with London fans, the Falcons-Lions game scheduled for Oct. 26 will kick off at 1:30 p.m. local London time, meaning 9:30 a.m. in the Eastern Time Zone in the United States, 6:30 a.m. Pacific. It will be the earliest kickoff in NFL history.