The NFL is allowing the Jacksonville Jaguars to market their brand and sell commercially in the United Kingdom, becoming what is believed to be the first U.S. sports team of any league with significant overseas sales and sponsorship rights.
The Jaguars will begin playing annually one game a season in London next year through 2016, and the marketing extension is part of an effort to reshape the club as the U.K.’s “home” NFL team.
|NFL Chief Marketing Officer Mark Waller (left), with Jaguars owner Shahid Khan at a conference in London, confirmed there was a new marketing model for the Jaguars and the U.K.
The conditions Lamping referred to are designed to ensure the Jaguars do not compete with the NFL’s own international backers. So the Jaguars can sign sponsorships in the U.K., but not with companies that compete with the NFL’s sponsors.
International markets are controlled by the U.S. sports leagues and off limits to individual clubs, one of the reasons why it’s been far tougher for U.S. teams to create an international brand for themselves than, say, English Premier League teams, which do not operate under such league-imposed restrictions. So Manchester United, for example, considered the world’s top sports team brand, can market itself in Asia, or anywhere else in the world.
Within the U.S., teams are tightly regulated by the leagues on where they can sell their marketing rights. In the NFL, teams are restricted to a 75-mile radius around their home stadiums, though exceptions are made in areas with no NFL team. In fact, it was in part the Jaguars’ frustration with that restriction that led them to the U.K.
Khan earlier this year acquired the club, which is located in the NFL’s fourth-smallest market by population and has had recent difficulty filling seats. He made inquiries with the league about expanding the team’s marketing footprint into central Florida, sources said, but was informed this would not be possible as areas such as Orlando are considered Tampa Bay Buccaneers territory. It was then that the Jaguars’ discussions began about not just playing multiple home games in London but receiving marketing rights as part of that, the sources said.
The Jaguars are not alone in being able to market in a foreign country. The Buffalo Bills market in Toronto, where the club plays an annual game, and part of the city falls outside the club’s 75-mile radius.
“The Bills’ home territory is an area extending out 75 miles in all directions from Buffalo,” said Mary Owen, the team’s executive vice president of strategic planning and a member of the NFL international committee. “This includes a large chunk of southern Ontario, including the [Greater Toronto area]. However, because it is in international territory, we coordinate our efforts with the NFL. We have been actively pursuing this territory since the late [1990s] when we did the last major renovation to the stadium.”
The Jaguars’ rights, though, clearly are more expansive than the Bills, who extend not far into an area adjacent to their home market.
Lamping said he aims to sign deals not just in the U.K., but to sign U.K. companies to sponsorships in Jacksonville. While it is unclear if there really is a commercial marketplace for any NFL team in the U.K., Lamping stressed the Jaguars will not be flying solo but working closely with the NFL on the marketing plan. While some consideration had been given to having a Jaguars executive based in London, for now the team will rely on trips there and the league’s London office.
Mark Waller, the NFL’s chief marketing officer, confirmed there was a new marketing model for the Jaguars and the U.K., but he was not available to discuss the issue in greater detail.
The NFL started its international series of regular-season games in London in 2007. The teams to date have been limited to activation events around the game, which will be no different for the St. Louis Rams, the home team later this month.
The Rams “have game-day activation rights but not territorial marketing rights,” said Kevin Demoff, the team’s chief operating officer. “Most everything we did was in partnership with [the] NFL.”
The Rams themselves had committed to a fuller slate of games, before backing off from all but this year’s contest after local stadium officials protested losing the home dates.
The league is working to have a second team play more than one home game annually in London. That club may be the Minnesota Vikings, who might be willing to play an annual game overseas until their new stadium is completed. Vikings President Mark Wilf did not respond for comment.