Goodell hints at more London games in 2016

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has spoken to prominent American sports writer Peter King on the eve of this week’s owner’s meetings and suggested that London could receive more than three games in 2016.

Three regular season games are being played at Wembley Stadium in 2015 as the Miami Dolphins take on the New York Jets, the Jacksonville Jaguars play host to the Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs battle the Detroit Lions.

It will mark the second year in a row that three regular season games have been played in London in the matter of a few weeks.

In an exclusive interview with Goodell said:

“We’re looking at more games in London. Again, I think every year we’ve learned something from our experience, which is the objective. First and foremost is the passion of the fans – they want more.

“What we’re getting from the authorities is that, ‘We’d love to have a permanent presence here.’ Stadiums are another big part of it.”

With Goodell hinting at a possible four – or more – games in London in 2016, King explored the possibility of taking the NFL on tour around Europe, asking about playing regular season games in Dublin, Barcelona and Munich, for example.

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I have huge respect for Peter King and I am a big fan of his work – and I know from first-hand experience that there are passionate fans in Ireland, Spain, Germany and across Europe – but I think that suggestion to take multiple games around Europe detracts from what the league is trying to achieve in London as it continues to grow its premier international market.

I spoke at length with Peter during a visit to the Jacksonville Jaguars’ training camp in Florida last summer and, at first, he thought the crowd at Wembley Stadium each year was a largely European one given how he had been told anecdotally about fans travelling from Portugal and other parts of Europe.

But I pointed out to Peter that the NFL conducts extensive research into its ticket buyers and they know who buys what and from where. And suffice to say that considerably more than 90 per cent of the fans at each game are from the United Kingdom, with the remainder being made up of fans of the competing teams coming across from the United States and then from across Europe.

In other words, the audience at Wembley Stadium is a very British one every time a regular season game is played there.

Most likely with those figures in mind, Goodell stressed a continued focus on London rather than producing an international NFL roadshow.“It depends on what your objective is,” Goodell answered.

“We’re not just out to prove whether or not we can play a regular season game. We’ve proven that.

“What we’re looking to do is, ‘Can we develop a market? Can we develop a fan base that is long-term and sustainable?’ What we’re seeing are very positive signs for that. We’re seeing a tremendous interest. We also had to get through a lot of logistics.”

Those logistics are, of course, vitally important as the NFL looks to send more games our way in the future. But so far, the NFL UK office has passed those logistical tests with flying colours, even sending the likes of Bill Belichick back across the pond with a smile on his face.

Logistics will become even more important in the coming years as the league looks further into the possibility and feasibility of a franchise in London. And I think that is just one other reason why we’re seeing lunchtime kick-offs in the UK – the ability for a team to fly back to America on the Sunday night instead of the Monday morning is a huge positive. Those are the kinds of travel arrangements that would have to be made if there was a London franchise within the next decade.

Goodell concluded his conversation with King by saying: “Playing a regular season game and not compromising the integrity of the game and the competitiveness of the game is really important. I think we’ve been able to do that.

“But we still have more work to do if we’re going to say, ‘Well, now a London-based team is going to play a full season there.’ Those are different factors that you have to consider.”

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