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Volume 21 No. 2
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NFL looks beyond Wembley for future games

The NFL has begun meeting with potential alternative venues in London to Wembley Stadium, its host since the league began playing regular-season games there in 2007.

The NFL is contracted to play at Wembley through 2016, and the talks with other parties, which sources said include English Premier League clubs and London’s Olympic Stadium, are at an early stage.

Wembley Stadium has been host to the NFL since it began playing regular-season games in London in 2007.

Nevertheless, the talks underscore that the NFL is laying the groundwork for games beyond 2016, when the current ownership resolution approving the U.K. contests expires.

“The expectation is we will be playing games beyond 2016, and we need the flexibility to play those games where we want and when we want,” said Chris Parsons, NFL senior vice president of international. “Clearly Wembley gives us some great options. At the same time, Wembley also has England [soccer] games going on during the weeks we play. That is a challenge for us if we want to play more games, how we actually fit into the schedule.”

The NFL played a single regular-season game annually in London for six years and then in 2013 played two. This year, the league has scheduled three games, with the potential of further increases in 2015 and 2016.

The league could stage the games in multiple venues if it brings over more games. Parsons mentioned as theoretical options Twickenham Stadium, an 82,000-seat rugby venue outside of London, and the city’s Olympic Stadium, which will host EPL squad West Ham United starting in 2016. Other sources said talks have occurred with Tottenham Hotspur, a London club that has plans to build a new 58,000-seat venue in the city by 2017, and that even the stadium in Cardiff, two hours from London, is a possibility. 

A spokeswoman for Tottenham denied talks had occurred with the NFL.

If a club relocated to London, a topic of discussion inside and outside the league, the NFL likely would want a single location for that team.

Terry Byrne, former business manager of David Beckham and currently part of a London-based group that owns Pelé’s marketing rights, said the NFL would be wise to stay at Wembley because more people attend simply because the games are there. The problem with playing in the home of an EPL team, he added, is that fans of other soccer clubs might not want to go to that venue even to watch American football.

So far, the Wembley games have all sold out, including the three slated for this fall. Whether more games, or a full season with a relocated team, can sell out Wembley’s seats is something the NFL is now considering. The stadium’s capacity is 90,000, but for NFL games, to account for the team benches and broadcast space, the venue seats around 84,000. That still makes it large by league standards. The average capacity at NFL teams’ venues last season was about 71,000.

“We are constantly looking at where we can play, what options we might have,” Parsons said. “We would be stupid not to.”