NFL Stands Firm In Its Plans For Future London Games Despite Not Selling Out Bears-Bucs
The Bears-Buccaneers game at Wembley Stadium yesterday marked the fifth successive year the NFL has played a regular-season game in London, but there “was not the demand for last night’s game that there has been in the past,” according to Ben Saunders of the LONDON TIMES. The combination of the economic climate and the Buccaneers “being back so soon after coming the first time in 2009 are reasons that have been mooted by fans who are staying away this year.” However, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that the lockout "was the main reason that ticket sales were not as high as they had been in the past.” Goodell: “We didn’t start selling tickets until September when we normally start back in early spring. I think that was an impact, obviously, not knowing whether we would play the game because of the lockout.” Saunders notes there were 76,981 fans at Wembley Stadium, "so the demand is there.” Goodell: “We are focused on having multiple games here and we think we can be successful.” He added, “One of the things that’s changed over the last five years when we changed our strategy to bring regular-season games here is the amount of interest in teams to come here” (LONDON TIMES, 10/24). Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris “refused to point the finger at a change to their routine for the 24-18 loss.” Morris said, "London is not to blame, I love coming to London. We had great preparation and you guys provided us with everything we needed to win this football game." Bears LB Brian Urlacher after the game said, "I'm glad I came over and played in this game. I was not looking forward to it, travelling and playing so quick but our schedule was good, the guys weren't tired. The stadium was cool. It was loud out there, a lot of fans, so it was a good experience” (BBC SPORT, 10/24).
DOUBLE SHOT OF MY BABY'S LOVE: Goodell appeared in Fox' broadcast booth for Bears-Buccaneers yesterday and said, "We think we can play multiple regular-season games here during the season, and that will further our growth and maybe someday have an NFL franchise here” ("Bears-Buccaneers," Fox, 10/23). ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Goodell suggested "expansion is an option before the end" of the recently signed 10-year CBA. Goodell also talked about “having a spring developmental league in one location." Mortensen: "It’s possible that location will be developed along the Eastern seaboard that could be used as the American home base for that potential London franchise." But ESPN's Mike Ditka said, "If there’s ever a franchise in London, it won’t be in my lifetime” (“Sunday NFL Countdown,” ESPN, 10/23). Fox’ Jimmy Johnson said as a "coach, I would hate” having a franchise in London. Johnson: “I’d hate all the distractions. I’d want to be at home. I wouldn’t want to be over there” (“Fox NFL Sunday,” Fox, 10/23). In Jacksonville, Vito Stellino wrote putting an NFL team in London “would be a logistical nightmare,” as “no team would want to be in that division and make an annual trip overseas.” Teams that currently fly from the West Coast to play on the East Coast are “usually at a disadvantage.” Going to London to play a team based there “would make the situation worse” (JACKSONVILLE.com, 10/22).
THE USUAL SUSPECTS: The AP’s Mattias Karen noted the NFL is “considering a plan to have a few teams play regularly in Britain to build an overseas following -- part of the league's evaluation about whether a franchise could be permanently based in London.” Goodell on Saturday said the league is looking into whether such a scenario would "advance our cause here by growing the fan base quicker." He is “talking to several teams about becoming regulars in the British capital.” Goodell: “We want to see the more popular teams come over.” Goodell “praised” Bucs Owners the Glazer family for “taking a leading role in promoting the game overseas.” He said that the Bucs are “one of several teams the league has been in discussions with over more London visits.” Goodell said that the league has “no plans to play in other European countries in the near future, looking to establish as big a presence as possible in Britain first” (AP, 10/22). Goodell yesterday said, "We’re going to try and focus on a few teams, just to see if that will accelerate our growth over here, and the Buccaneers have a tremendous interest in expanding their brand on a global basis. ... The Glazer family owns ManU over here, so there’s an infrastructure set up and it’s an opportunity we’re looking forward to” (“Bears-Buccaneers," Fox, 10/23). The GUARDIAN’s Paolo Bandini noted when NFL owners voted earlier this month “to extend the International Series to 2016, it was understood that the league was keen on having one or two teams become regular visitors to the UK, in order that fans in the country might begin adopt them” as a "home team." Goodell this weekend “did nothing to play down such talk when he spoke at a fan forum on Saturday.” Goodell: "I think they (Tampa Bay) recognise that the growth of the league is important and they've been leaders in this area. I think they want to see the Bucs become a global franchise and I think that's a great thing for Tampa and a great thing for the NFL." Bandini noted whether a regular yearly game in London “would be enough to convince a British audience to take the Buccaneers to their hearts remains to be seen.” Wembley was the “usual sea of different shirts, with fans representing every one of the league's 32 teams” (GUARDIAN.co.uk, 10/24).
GIVING EVERYONE A SHOT: In St. Petersburg, Rick Stroud noted the Buccaneers “released a statement saying no decision has been made about returning to London.” The statement read, "While our team has been very well-received this week, we have made no decisions past this year's game." Goodell said that the league's owners “decided within the past two weeks to play two games at Wembley Stadium and the only question to answer is if to play them in consecutive weeks or space them apart” (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 10/23). Bucs GM Mark Dominik said, "I can't sit here and say honestly that I've had those discussions with anybody. What I can do is say this team is not going to relocate from Tampa and move to London, emphatically” (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 10/22). Dominik in a special to the LONDON TIMES on Saturday wrote, “From the league’s standpoint we are in Britain to continue to play games outside the United States and to continue to expose American football to as many people as we can” (LONDON TIMES, 10/22). In London, Oliver Brown writes few NFL franchises “have fired the imagination in this country so much as the Bears.” The only worry for Goodell was “the glimpse of swathes of empty seats in the upper tiers.” Brown writes, “Perhaps the novelty, even for a British audience still smitten for the Bears, is fading.” (London TELEGRAPH, 10/24). Bears coach Lovie Smith said, "I feel like for the league, internationally, we should let them see all of the teams in the NFL. They have had a chance to see the Chicago Bears. I think it's someone else's time now to come over" (AP, 10/24).
I COULD GET USED TO THIS: In London, Gavin Allen wrote yesterday’s game “felt a little less out-of-place.” A crowd of 76,981 “enjoyed the spectacle,” and at least “showed the U.S. contingent that the sport is indeed taking root here.” NFL U.K. Managing Dir Alistair Kirkwood said, “Five years on, we can see that we've successfully carried out these games, and we've also got more games being shown live on Sky, and we have partnerships with Channel 4, ESPN, the BBC, and the sport has really taken off since the games began” (London DAILY MAIL, 10/24). However, in Chicago, Rick Morrissey writes under the header, “Bears Win The Game, But Not The London Fans.” Morrissey: “The idea was for the NFL to attract foreign fans, not scare them away, right? ... The real winner? Judging by the roar of the crowd, it was the guy who ran onto the field. Sigh. When you’re trying to take over the world the way the NFL is, sometimes it involves baby steps” (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 10/24).
SPREADING THE IDEA: In London, Richard Edwards wrote last night’s game is “American Football’s answer to the now infamous Game 39, a showdown match played once a season overseas to exploit the NFL’s enormous popularity over here.” The EPL has a “growing army of US owners” and that means “Game 39 will surely rear its head again sooner rather than later.” Edwards: “Pre-season friendlies are one thing, but as the NFL is proving it’s competitive action that really brings in the big bucks” (London EXPRESS, 10/24). Also in London, Nick Szczepanik wrote the annual NFL game “is seen by some as proof that the Premier League's ‘39th game’ proposal could work, and several other ideas pioneered by the NFL” (London INDEPENDENT, 10/23). Meanwhile, Goodell “advised English Football Association officials on the benefits of adopting the Rooney Rule designed to create more opportunities for black and minority coaches.” Steelers Chair Emeritus and U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney last week “joined Goodell in a meeting with FA officials.” Goodell on Saturday said the rule “has been good for our game (and) it's good business.” Goodell: “And that was exactly our message to the FA officials” (AP, 10/22).
NOT AN IDEAL WEEKEND: In Chicago, Sean Jensen notes a "week to remember for the Glazer family ... turned into one it would just as soon forget." Jensen: "Owners of famed soccer club Manchester United, at least one of the Glazers headed to Old Trafford -- about 160 miles away -- then traveled by helicopter back to London for the Bucs game." Manchester City "embarrassed the home club 6-1, handing Manchester United its worst home loss since 1955" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 10/24).