British and Irish NFL fans will have a lot more to cheer about over the next 5 years. NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, speaking Monday evening at a press conference following the NFL Owners’ meeting in Houston, Texas, announced plans to significantly expand the popular International Series which features an NFL regular season game in London’s Wembley Stadium.
The new International Series format will allow teams to host at least one home game per year in the UK for up to five years. This new development is the result of the tremendous success of the International Series thus far. Goodell said, “Because of the outstanding support of our British fans, we are confident that hosting additional games in the UK will be well received.”
The NFL will decide the exact number of games to be held in the UK on an annual basis depending on the number of teams that volunteer to play. When asked about the possibility of games being held in other markets outside of London, the Commissioner suggested that many of the fans who attend the London games come from outside London and that other locations are being considered, mentioning Birmingham, specifically, as a possibility. He also said that, while the NFL have explored holding matches in Continental Europe (mentioning Germany, specifically), for now, the International Series will be limited to the UK.
Goodell explained that the reasoning behind having the same (home) teams travel to the UK on an annual basis was to establish some consistency in the teams that are playing in the UK to help those teams develop a more loyal following in that market. He stressed that these teams would be participating in this program strictly on a voluntary basis, but that there would be a financial incentive (largely to make up for the lost ticket sales revenue due to having one less home game each season) for teams to play on this side of the Atlantic. According to Goodell, there has been plenty of interest from several teams, so British & Irish fans should be able to feel confident that this will result in a significant increase in the number of games to be held in the UK.
Could this be the precursor to an NFL franchise in the UK? Quite possibly, but be prepared to wait. Commissioner Goodell stated that part of the reason for expanding the International Series was to determine if there might be enough interest in the UK market to sustain a franchise. He also said, however, that the NFL hadn’t even begun to consider the logistics of how something like this would work, explaining that it was way to soon.
While there was no mention of a possible game in Dublin, with Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney currently serving as the US Ambassador to Ireland, don’t be entirely shocked to see a game in the Aviva or Croker sometime before 2016. We can always hope!
The International Series, which saw its first game in 2007, enters its fifth year in 2011 with a match-up between the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The winners of the previous games were the New York Giants (2007), the New Orleans Saints (2008), the New England Patriots (2009) and the San Fransisco 49ers (2010). This will be Tampa Bay’s second trip to the UK, having lost their 2009 contest to the Patriots.