The last time Roger Goodell and Shahid Khan stood on a stage together, the square-jawed commissioner introduced the world to the mustachioed Jacksonville Jaguars' new owner. Goodell and Khan shared a stage again on Tuesday. This time they were introducing the Jaguars to a new audience with news of a deal that will make the teal and black the home team at London's Wembley Stadium from 2013 through 2016.
A long line of civic and business leaders flanked Goodell and Khan, including Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll and Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown. They were there to tout what they believe to be a myriad of economic benefits wrapped up in the deal for all parties.
"I am obviously delighted that this is a wonderful time for us to start, both the Jaguars and the Jacksonville area, to work together and raise our national and international profile," Khan said. "A strong Jaguars, we need a strong Jacksonville. With this, hopefully we will be doing our part to have an even stronger National Football League."
It was a much different tone than the one surrounding the league's last deal for a team to play in London, a three-year deal with the St. Louis Rams, from 2012 through 2014. That news landed in the midst of a tense round of negotiations over the team's lease on the Edward Jones Dome and found little in the way of public support. Earlier in August, the Rams, with the league's blessing, pulled out of the London commitments for 2013 and 2014. That opened the door for the Jaguars to fill the void.
Khan pointed to an expanded footprint for his team, a larger identity and a greater appeal to fans, players and sponsors.
"We want to be the kind of a franchise that players want to belong to, sponsors want to be a part of and Jacksonville obviously is proud of and fans all over, Jacksonville and outside, really want to embrace," Khan explained.
Previous attempts to sell the league to international fans began with taking preseason games beyond the border. The NFL decided to change that to a regular season game six years ago, showcasing a more polished product than exhibition football. Agreeing to a multi-year commitment with a single team is the next step in that process. The four-year deal with the Jaguars makes them a "home team" to fans in the UK, so the theory goes.
"We believe the fans over there would like to follow a specific team," Goodell said. "We believe that four years is an opportunity for us to test that theory, for the television partners that we have in the UK to put more of a focus on the Jaguars both in the season and outside the season ..."
Khan and the others also plugged larger potential economic windfalls for Jacksonville and the state of Florida. Carroll sounded eager to market the state and its northern city to the world.
"This next international game is an opportunity to showcase Jacksonville and Northeast Florida and all that we're doing here in the state to strengthen our international relationships and our business ties," Carroll said. "Jacksonville, as Shad has said, is a vibrant city with great business opportunities and a wonderful tourist attraction. We want the world to know that Florida is the best place for football, for travel and for business."
Some fans were left unconvinced of possible marketing advantages associated with losing four home games in four years. Nerves in Jacksonville are already on edge thanks to an open market in Los Angeles and constant, but unfounded, rumors of a possible Jaguars move. Concerns over the immediate cost of losing a home game also came up, and were waved off by Khan.
"I don't know the math," Khan said. "We're doing it really for more important reasons. The math is going to shake out to whatever it is going to shake out. It's secondary, frankly, at this point."
Khan hinted at opportunities for local fans to see the London game in person, in light of the concerns over one less home game in Jacksonville.
"How we really leverage that both ways, fans from Jacksonville maybe going to the London games and London fans maybe towards the end of the season coming to Jacksonville," Khan said. "I think it's a two-way street. Both of those we'll be working on and coming up with some kind of package, inducement, incentives to really encourage that.
"I think it's a little too early, quite frankly, this is very recent news."
It was also too early to know which team the Jaguars might be playing when they have their first game in London next season. The league will consult with potential opponents, teams interested in playing overseas as well, with an eye on creating what Goodell called an "attractive" matchup for fans. That opponent is less likely to be one of Jacksonville's AFC South rivals.
"We don't have a rule that takes it out, but we like to try to focus on those rivalries and staying with the home fans if we can," Goodell said about the possibility of a division game taking place in London.
The Jaguars are likely to be London's only NFL "home team" for some time. Goodell gave a nod to the possibility of eventually having an NFL team in the UK, but said that was still over the horizon. A more immediate possibility is having multiple regular season games there, potentially as soon as 2013.
While the NFL is intent on expanding its footprint in the United Kingdom, Khan ended the session by reiterating that taking his team across the pond is very much about the Jaguars and the Jacksonville market.
"There's a huge amount of upside for everybody," Khan beamed. "I think most importantly the upside here is for Jacksonville and the Jaguars we have a chance to develop a bigger fan base. I see no down side for anybody, huge upside for everybody."