NFL could expand London slate to eight, schedule one team for multiple games
The NFL is interested in seeing how a team responds to playing back-to-back weekends in London
Mark Waller, the executive vice president of NFL International and the league's full-time point person in London, told me he foresees expansion of regular-season football into England in the coming years on several fronts.
The NFL is celebrating its 10th anniversary of playing annual regular-season games in London, and the overseas schedule kicks off early Sunday with the Jaguars hosting the Ravens. At this point 26 of the league's 32 teams have been scheduled to play in London, and that number is very likely to grow soon enough.
Waller said that efforts continue to try to approximate what a London-based NFL team might experience, which could mean eight regular-season games being played there in the near future, as well as one team playing in London more than once in the same season.
"I'd like to do both of those," Waller said. "I don't think you have to go four games, five games, six games, seven games, eight games. I think we've shown by the strength of the foundation that the demand is there, and I definitely think you could play across a full season [eight regular-season "home" games] and slate the games and I definitely agree with you, you'd want to see a team coming over and playing two or even three games, and then going back to the States and seeing how that works.
"Because ultimately we believe if you ever put a team here the schedule would have to work on a flighting of two or three games in the UK, followed by two or three games in the States. I don't think you could expect a team to travel backwards and forwards every week. So we'd like to see what it's like to play here back-to-back weekends, and I'm sure we'll get to that in the next couple of years."
In addition, Waller anticipates the Jaguars will extend their agreement with the league to continue playing in London beyond 2020, when the current arrangement expires. Jacksonville has been the team most synonymous with these games given their annual participation. They are often the team most mentioned in ownership circles about the most likely candidates to relocate to London if or when that day ever comes.
"Obviously, they've still got three years to run on that agreement," Waller said, "and I'm sure after this year we'll start the conversation there. I'd be very surprised if they didn't want to continue. It's worked, I think, incredibly well for them in London, and I believe it's really helped the city of Jacksonville gain visibility and exposure, and even inward investment into Jacksonville as a result, and it's work fantastically for us. So I'd be disappointed if there wasn't an extension to that arrangement at a minimum."
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