SBJ/September 26-October 2, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL to keep London on season itinerary

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NFL owners plan to vote in two weeks to continue playing regular-season games in London, sources said, marking the latest business initiative the league has concluded since the end of the lockout last month.

The league, however, has not decided whether to have owners vote on a resolution to continue playing just one game annually, as has been the case, or add a second game in London each season.

The current owner resolution allowing the league to play games in London passed in 2006 but expires after next month’s annual contest. The package of games has been dubbed the International Series. The first regular-season game in London was in 2007.

It’s unclear if the new resolution will replicate the current agreement’s five-year term. The NFL declined to comment. Owners will meet in Houston Oct. 10-11.

The league’s games in London have sold out quickly, but whether they are more than a curiosity in a soccer-mad country is another question. In past interviews, NFL Chief Marketing Officer Mark Waller has said the league is focused on London and not expanding the International Series to other countries, such as cities in Germany and Mexico.

London has worked logistically because of the relatively minor time difference in London compared with other global locations; having Wembley Stadium as a host venue; and having groundwork in the country from past NFL preseason games in London. The league markets aggressively in London the week of game, with events in places like Trafalgar Square. The game itself has been a mixed bag for players and coaches, who have not been fond of the disruption to their routines.

There has even been talk of a relocated team or expansion franchise playing in London, though that is not on the NFL agenda for now.

“The question for me is more about, What is the long-term goal of the NFL staging these games overseas?” said Rob Tilliss, founder of Inner Circle Sports, which has advised several English soccer clubs. “Are they going back to the concept of building a world league? Are they thinking of putting a team in London?”

NFL games are televised in England on Sky Sports and Channel 4, so the regular-season game could also be viewed as way to increase viewership there.

The league already plays another international game in Toronto annually as part of separate deal the Buffalo Bills have to play in that city.

Presuming owners pass the new resolution, it would mark the third major initiative since the lockout, following a 10-year renewal of the league’s PepsiCo sponsorship and the extension of the “Monday Night Football” contract with ESPN.
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