Over the last two weeks, the NFL has hosted two games in the United Kingdom. The Jaguars and Falcons faced off on October 1 in Wembley Stadium. This past Sunday (October 8), the Bills and Jaguars competed in Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – the only purpose-built stadium outside of the United States. These two games are part of five regular season international games the NFL will host in Europe this season. This coming week, the Ravens and Titans will square off in Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. In weeks 9 and 10, Miami will play Kansas City followed by the Indianapolis Colts versus the New England Patriots – both games in Frankfurt Stadium.
The NFL UK Instagram account has done a phenomenal job capturing moments and sharing relevant information to help those outside of the United Kingdom understand the magnitude of what is really happening. Though, NFL games in the U.K. are not new as the NFL London Games started in 2007. During the first six years, the NFL London Games consisted of one NFL game hosted at Wembley Stadium. In 2013, multiple NFL games in London were confirmed - a tradition that has persisted over the last decade. Since 2013, 28 different NFL clubs have traveled across the pond to compete in London across three different stadiums.
The only constant? The Jacksonville Jaguars.
Jacksonville is the only NFL team who has played in London every year since 2013. This season marks the first time an NFL team has played back to back games in London – yup, it was the Jaguars. Owner Shad Khan has called the Jaguars' time in London a “win-win-win,” citing benefits for the franchise, the NFL, and the London community. But if you’re like me, you’re asking the following question:
How is a small market NFL franchise in Duval County leading the NFL’s globalization efforts in London?
Took some work, but I have the answer. Let’s walk.
Positioning. Owner Shad Khan has deep ties to the U.K. After purchasing the Jaguars in 2012, he bought the Fulham F.C., soccer team in England’s Premier League (EPL) in 2013. In January 2012, the NFL confirmed a multi-year contract for the then-St. Louis Rams to host one of their home games each year in London. Seven months later, the Rams backed out and the Jaguars took their place and have not looked back.
Over the last decade, the Jaguars have invested in growing American football in England and across Europe. In a 2012 interview with The Guardian, Khan named global expansion as a critical factor in helping to revive the Jacksonville franchise:
"The first question is, what are we going to do to develop our fan base? You need a win-win proposition and international expansion is so logical. The NFL has gone through a series of incremental steps, so it is clear that what makes sense for the league also makes sense for the Jaguars. Britain has a very passionate fan base and there are a lot of knowledgeable [NFL] fans there. There is a huge amount of interest and curiosity and it is a great opportunity for us to grow that great fan base."
During the same 2012 interview, he also detailed his strategy to embrace the million plus Brits who travel to Florida annually in order to see a return on investment and fandom when Jacksonville traveled to London to compete. From the beginning, Khan and the Jaguars were committed to establishing a sustainable and reciprocal relationship with London and the U.K. Today, their relationship holds significant weight in shaping the future of NFL international – a reality Commissioner Goodell has also embraced.
League Support. Goodwill was interviewed at a recent event in London. During the interview, he was asked why the Jaguars were chosen to play in back-to-back games in London. In his response, he talked about the NFL’s interest in playing more games over in London as well as determining whether there would be a competitive advantage or disadvantage for the traveling team compared to a London based team. In fact, Goodell said, “let’s say there was more than one [London franchise],” a comment that sparked audible excitement from the crowd.
It’s not a matter of if, but rather when. The NFL will have a permanent presence in Europe. I predict the league will start expansion with at least two European based franchises – one in London and one in Frankfurt.
The NFL has tried experimenting with American football in Europe for almost 50 years. In 1974, plans to launch the Intercontinental League never materialized. Other attempts include the World League of American Football (1991), World League (1992, 1995-1997), and the NFL Europe League (1998-2005). Previous iterations focused on funding and facilitating a parallel American football league in Europe. The most recent attempt, NFL Europe League, failed due to the inability to generate revenue. Two years later, the NFL shifted its focus from creating a separate league to investing into global marketing and international competition with its current franchises.
In 2010, Commissioner Goodell set a goal to generate $25 billion/year in revenue by 2027. At the time of his statement, the NFL’s annual revenue was only $8.35 billion/year. Goodell’s plan to close the $17 billion gap??!
“We expect to have close to 200million fans here in the United States, but our real objective is how do we grow the game globally.'
He has aligned his actions with his words. The NFL invested $922.5 million USD to build its own stadium in London – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.The NFL also founded the NFL Academy in 2019, an initiative to teach international youth the game of American football in order to facilitate pathways to continue their career as NCAA college athletes. The NFL also started the International Player Pathway (IPP) program and expanded practice squad roster spots in order to increase the number of international players in the league – as more international athletes compete, more countries are invested in the game, and thus interest and dollars in American football and the National League League continue to grow.
The NFL is going global, London is the model, and the Jaguars are leading the way.
Environmental Adaptation. I recently met with Dr. Jessica Murfree, sport ecologist and professor at the University of Cincinnati. We began to talk about NFL London Games and I shared with her my prediction that Jacksonville will be the franchise that relocates to London. To my surprise, she was not shocked and cited environmental adaptation as supporting evidence.
We have all read, heard, or seen on Twitter/TikTok the evidence of rising sea levels around Florida and predictions of when Florida will be submerged underwater. Despite our personal predictions or current knowledge - Science is real. Global warming is real. Climate change is real.
Proposed Stadium of the Future
Jacksonville is in talks to build the Stadium of the Future, but it’s not lost on me that Owner Khan attempted to purchase Wembley Stadium (U.K.) just five years ago, before removing his bid due to lack of support from the Football Association (FA) Council members. As we consider potential league expansion and franchise relocation, sport ecologists such as Dr. Murfree will help us make sense of when, where, and why the NFL will choose to back investment in geographic locations around the world – pay very very close attention to climate change and the Jacksonville stadium situation.
I am not saying the Jaguars are going to relocate.
But if I was betting man, I'd put $20 on Khan taking the franchise to London.
Several years ago, I watched the NFL London Games and said “that was cool.” In 2023, I watch the games, follow the social accounts, and dream about how the NFL's international presence will influence international college athlete recruitment, retention, and career readiness. I continue to witness professional athletics as a vehicle for internationalization and eagerly await college athletics intentional engagement in the internationalization process as well.
It’s happening. We’re walking. We’re ready.