Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Jaguars are London's home-based NFL team, for now
LONDON -- The Jacksonville Jaguars are the closest thing the NFL will have to a London-based team for the next four years. And that's just fine, for the moment.
Jacksonville is playing the first of four "home" games at Wembley Stadium over four seasons on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
The Jaguars are often talked up as a potential London franchise, but the organization is treating this like a business trip abroad.
Jaguars owner Shahid Khan said the team's commitment to London does not go beyond the current deal.
"I think it's way too early to think about a team being based over here -- if you look at it, it's the first year with two games," Khan was quoted as saying by Sky Sports. "Next year there'll be three games here, so it's a long time to go, you've got to decide if it makes sense, and we haven't got all the facts."
The NFL has vied to develop interest in its product in Europe before -- most notably through the World League and NFL Europe -- but that experiment did not work.
It has instead looked to its International Series as a means to drum up interest, with London being a regular site for NFL games since 2007.
This season is the first year that two games will take place at Wembley: The Minnesota Vikings beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-27 in Week 4. Next year, the league has scheduled three games, with the Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons and Oakland Raiders all set to play as "home" teams.
Despite their 0-7 record, the Jaguars have been a good draw at their Everbank Field with just under 60,000 spectators attending on average through three games this season.
So while more than 84,000 fans are expected to fill Wembley Stadium on Sunday, the novelty of watching American football courtesy of the Jaguars may lose momentum if the team does not improve. Jacksonville heads into the game against the 49ers (5-2), a Super Bowl finalist last season, having been outscored 89-11 in those three home defeats.
While players are lapping up the overseas experience, many are weary about a full-time franchise across the Atlantic Ocean, with questions over travel, living, and income taxes.
"It would be a brutal schedule for a team that has to be playing on the other side of the world all year because the travel is definitely going to tax the players and the staff on any team. Then you're talking about people staying away from their families for weeks away at a time, so it's a difficult situation," Jaguars guard Uche Nwaneri said Wednesday from the team's training base outside London.
"There's a lot of different variables that players are going to consider when it comes to having to live in London. Players are going to have some concerns about that. It would be tough to find solutions for everything, but the NFL always seems to find a way so we will see."
Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne can see this experience benefiting the team going forward.
"Everybody will be accustomed to the travel and what day we'll leave, where we're staying and what we actually have out here for the future," Henne said. "It will definitely be beneficial for our team being out here this year and continuing the next four years."
Khan does have a venue for the Jaguars in London. He owns the English Premier League club Fulham, which plays in South London at the near-26,000 capacity Craven Cottage.
Khan said he had entertained the thought of playing one game at Craven Cottage.
"Anything is possible," Khan was quoted as saying. "This is like a high school game setting, so personal, so up close, it might be kind of fun."
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