SBD/Issue 29/Leagues & Governing Bodies

Goodell Eyes More U.K. Games, But Chargers-Saints Lacking Buzz

Goodell Says NFL Considering
More Int'l Games In Future
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appeared on ESPN's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" Friday live from London, site of Sunday's Chargers-Saints game, and said that league "may play more than one game a year" abroad in the future. Goodell said playing a regular-season game in London presents “an opportunity for us to expand our audience and continue to grow and we have a tremendous fans base over here. ... It’s a very important step in our development and the reaction has been extraordinary." He added, "I think we’ll keep doing this. We are going to commit to play next year and the year following over here. ... The negative that you have to balance this with, though, is that we have a limited number of games that are played in each home market back in the (U.S.), and it’s difficult to take a game away from the home fans. We are very sensitive to that. That’s why this is being done on a limited basis.” Goodell added, “Ultimately, you could see a franchise potentially in a market like London” (“Mike & Mike In the Morning,” ESPN2, 10/24).

BUILDING INTEREST: Chargers-Saints is the second NFL regular-season game to be played in London, following last year's Giants-Dolphins matchup, and NFL officials said that the “goal now is to instill a more abiding interest in American football.” NFL U.K. Managing Dir Alistair Kirkwood: “Last year was a launch, this year is about the X’s and O’s of converting people to being life-long NFL fans.” USA TODAY’s Jeffrey Stinson noted the NFL has launched a Web site that “will be touted during the game to better explain the sport to would-be fans.” The league also will expand the “amount of NFL team merchandise at the game and in stores around the city.” Last year, Kirkwood said that gear “sold out at the 30 booths at Wembley.” The NFL has increased the number of seats to almost 83,000 from 80,000 last year, and Kirkwood said that as of midweek there were a “few hundred tickets” remaining.” The BBC public stations are broadcasting the game live along with Sky Sports. Last year, the BBC “only ran highlights” (USA TODAY, 10/23). Kirkwood said, “The Wembley games will go down well, but the danger is that it will come across as a circus coming into town. The biggest challenge is to use the game as a stimulation for interest in the sport. We have an opportunity over these four years to grow the sport substantially” (LONDON TIMES, 10/24). More Kirkwood: "We have a decent fan base, but the challenge is growing that base five or six times over by building a bridge from the hype around the Wembley game (to) people wanting to tune in to Houston versus Minnesota (the following week)" (SI.com, 10/24).

BUZZ KILL: In San Diego, Nick Canepa writes under the header, “Amid Goals, Grog, NFL Not Main Attraction.” Canepa, covering the game in London, writes the game is “fine with many of those who don’t mind novelty stores. But most I’ve seen and talked to here can’t be bothered with big men wearing pads and helmets damaging the hallowed Wembley Stadium turf” (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 10/24). Canepa Wednesday wrote there is “no buzz on the street. … The NFL isn’t on everybody’s mind, not even this week.” Brian Smith, a former San Diego citizen who now lives in London, said, “I’ve felt no more buzz for this game here than last year’s (Giants-Dolphins). The game may have sold out in a few hours, but most people don’t have a clue it’s going on” (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 10/22). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon: “The game’s sold out, but the Brits have already turned thumbs down on American football. … American football is not wanted in Western Europe" (“PTI,” ESPN, 10/21). But Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson said of fans in London, “I thought they were very excited about us being here. They were really interested in American football and I think that’s evident in how many tickets have been sold” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 10/22). Saints coach Sean Payton said, “I watched on television [Tuesday] and there was all sorts of news and information not only about this game, but our sport in general” (Saints).

SHOULD NFL BE IN ENGLAND? ESPN’s Mark Schlereth said playing games abroad is "something that has been made up by management that doesn’t have to go over there and play." Schlereth: "I know that you want to increase the popularity to the world of this wonderful, wonderful game. But to make two teams go over to England and play is ludicrous to me” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 10/24). In California, Marcia Smith writes, "Does it bother anybody that the NFL is over there, fertilizing its global appeal, and not here, getting loved and thinking about moving into a proposed $800[M] stadium on a City of Industry hilltop?" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 10/24). 

 
HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE: In New Orleans, Teddy Kider noted the Saints are the designated home team, and a tunnel leading to the Wembley Stadium field has “huge Saints decals covering its walls.” Kirkwood said that the NFL is “planning to put Saints branding throughout the inside of the stadium and pass out black flags with the slogan “Be A Saint” to all 83,000 spectators.” There also is “expected to be an NFL-organized, Mardi Gras-themed tailgate party, with a capacity of 20,000 people.” Kirkwood: “Last year, because it was the first of its type, the focus was on the novelty of it, and it was very much promoted as the International Series game. Whereas I think this year we’ve done a much better job of promoting the home team” (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 10/22).

LIVE FROM LONDON: In San Diego, Jay Posner notes CBS will broadcast Chargers-Saints to 33% of the country in the 1:00pm ET window. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will call the game, and CBS Coordinating Producer Lance Barrow and the net's top production crew will also be on site. Barrow said that he will “have the same allotment of cameras and video machines available Sunday, albeit in a different production truck.” He has been “told the camera and video operators who will fill in for regular crew members who didn’t make the trip have the requisite knowledge of American Football.” Barrow’s “hope is that the telecast doesn’t look any different than a normal NFL game” (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 10/24).

SOMETHING TO LEARN FROM: In London, Kevin Eason writes when English Premier League (EPL) CEO Richard Scudamore announced his plan to play a 39th game abroad, the "football world exploded with derision.” Yet the NFL “has overcome the same objections from fans in the United States and, for the second year running, is staging a match an ocean from its homeland that will spin a profit for each of the 32 NFL franchises.” Unlike the EPL’s “rapacious every man-for-himself attitude to cash, though, the proceeds are shared in a league in which the biggest teams are only as strong as the weakest.” Kirkwood said, “It is not exactly the same situation as the Premier League. But there is a level of co-operation between teams to ensure their own survival and a healthy league” (LONDON TIMES, 10/24).

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