|Jaguars owner Shahid Khan could be integral in the NFL's efforts to land a team in London. (US Presswire)|
Commissioner Roger Goodell and league officials have not hidden their desire to eventually have a team in London. The addition of a second game at Wembley Stadium and the recent endorsement of a London NFL team by Patriots owner Robert Kraft has helped to further cement that long-term desire.
But for the most part, it's been discussed as more a far-off concept than near-term possibility. However, several executives who took part in this month's owners meeting in Chicago came away with the distinct belief that an existing team would be moving to London within the next 10 years, and that the NFL is more firmly behind the concept than ever.
Eric Grubman, the league's Executive Vice President of Business Ventures, addressed the teams as part of the International Committee presentation at the meeting less than two weeks ago, and spoke in certain terms about the desire to have a team in London, sources said, with numerous attendees leaving the meeting with the impression this initiative will result in a team moving to London more quickly than owners had previously imagined.
“Grubman pretty much flat-out said, ‘We want to have a team in London -- our goal is to get a team there and make this happen,'” said one source who was present for the meeting. “It didn't sound like an if, we took it as a when.”
Said another source at the meeting: “I don't even know why they call it the International Committee. They should just call it the London Committee. It's pretty obvious everything is geared to the U.K. and, really, Wembley Stadium. I left that meeting thinking this isn't 20 years away, this is happening in five to 10 years. The league is really behind this.”
With NFL owners generally satisfied with a 32-team model -- and the corresponding revenue-sharing model -- the strong feeling among team execs is that an existing team would move to London, rather than an expansion team. Several high-ranking team officials believe the Jaguars -- through their agreement to play games in London for multiple years, given their economic and stadium difficulties in Jacksonville, and with new owner Shad Khan having no strong roots to North Florida -- would be a favorite to end up abroad. Khan has repeatedly expressed his desire to keep the team in Jacksonville since purchasing it from Wayne Weaver a year ago, it should be noted.
Khan was very active in his team's move toward annual games in London through 2016, and if European fans begin supporting the Jaguars it would make all the more sense for the franchise to land there. Furthermore, expansion teams typically struggle for quite some time, while an existing team moving there should help from a competitive balance standpoint (the Jags' recent struggles in the AFC South, not withstanding).
Everyone I spoke to who was at the league meeting said the NFL has never mentioned a firm timeframe for the move to London, but, with the CBA now secured along with the deal with the referees and the extension of the broadcast television deals, they believe this is becoming increasingly one of the focal points for the NFL on its agenda to become more global. The NFL will be monitoring the reaction to the addition of a second game, starting in 2013.
The allure of the foreign market, and strength of the British pound, could entice several owners to explore the option in London, but the Jaguars will be best positioned to make the jump, many within the league believe.