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The NFL is expanding its footprint in London, with the idea of growing a fan base there. Will a UK expansion team follow?
CHICAGO -- There is a five-hour time difference between New York and London. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was quick to point that out to me during his press conference at the NFL fall league meetings on Tuesday. Because of that time difference, football fans in the United States will not see one of the league's two 2013 London games in primetime there.
"That means the game will be played at two in the morning," Goodell said. "I think that would be tough."
The point, lost in the questioner's poor choice of phrasing, was why does the league not do more to showcase its London games for fans in the United States. It is something the league has considered.
"We've discussed a number of alternatives -- playing in the mid-afternoon, what would be now the late-afternoon," the commissioner explained. "We've also talked about an earlier game in London -- which would be earlier in the morning here in the United States - what you might want to call a ‘triple afternoon header' because you have an early game, the 1:00 game, the 4:00 game. We even debated that a little bit and that may happen in the future, but right now, we think this is the best opportunity for success and again, we'll learn from this."
The NFL is not playing games in the UK for the benefit of fans in the US, a point that should have been as obvious as the time difference. Professional football is descending on Wembley Stadium with increasing frequency for the benefit of building a fan base in London specifically.
Wembley Stadium will host two regular season NFL games in 2013. The Minnesota Vikings will "host" the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 29, and the Jacksonville Jaguars will be the "home" team against the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 27. It's the first of four games that the Jaguars will play there.
"It comes back to believing in the fans in the UK, in particularly in London," Goodell said. "We think this is a part of building a fan base in London and by playing both of them at Wembley Stadium that will help achieve that goal faster."
Growing the NFL brand is only part of the equation. Minnesota Vikings owner Mark Wilf and Steelers owner Art Rooney noted the chance to play on the international stage as an opportunity to grow their fan bases.
"It's a unique opportunity for the Vikings organization to highlight our great brand on an international stage," Wilf said.
"There was a certain member of the family who was pushing hard to have a game in Ireland," Rooney said, referring to his brother who serves as the US ambassador to that country. "We're exciting about playing in London. Hopefully, we'll have opportunities in the future to play in other international games because it gives you a chance to develop fans in other countries, as well as present your team in front of fans that you already have in those other countries."
Marketing a team's home city as an international destination is also cited behind the decision to play in London.
"Playing in London will provide an exceptional exposure to the team, as well as Minnesota's impressive business community and tourism industry," Wilf said.
The Jacksonville Jaguars cited a similar reason behind the decision to play in London over the next four seasons.
"The Jaguars have committed to be the home team for several years," the commissioner said. "They believe that is good for the city of Jacksonville and for their fans. I believe that also. I was down there when we announced the series, and I think it is a very healthy thing, because it will help build Jacksonville as an international city. That is how they are looking at it."
The NFL has its eyes on London as a possible expansion site. Goodell was very up front about that as one reason for doubling up on the games there.
"Again, if we can play multiple regular-season games there, that gives you a better opportunity to be successful if you choose to put a franchise in London," Goodell explained. "This is a way to really build that fan base right now in London, which will be critical if you did have a franchise there."