Special Report: American franchises are heading to Europe

June 20, 2016

Jacksonville Jaguars have found a second home in London – and many suspect it could become a permanent one.

In the last 10 years the NFL has established the international series in London, with a series also being set-up for Mexico later this year.

The Jags have embraced it more than most, and have agreed to play one game a year in London until 2020.

The man in charge of spreading the Jaguars’ reach oversees is Senior vice president, international development, Hussain Naqi, and he said the UK is already an important part of the business.

“Our owner owns Fulham FC. There’s a natural fit to London. It’s part of the international growth strategy, it’s part of our local revenue strategy with the Jaguars. It’s become a really critical component of what we do. The UK represents about 15% of local revenue now after four short years and we want to grow that significantly as the years progress. It’s the next opportunity for the NFL, the NFL has a lot of market penetration in the States, so the next big frontier for them is, and for us, is international.”

The speed in which the NFL has gone about growing an international fanbase has impressed many. Sean McKenna Account Director at Epsilon (fan engagement specialists) explained why the brand has done so well:

‘The NFL’s success in growing a dedicated international fan base shows what can be achieved with the right strategy for entering a new market. By reaching out to new fans, the NFL is no longer niche and is entering the mainstream. They also benefit from a level of cultural currency that most sports, even the biggest, can only dream of, meaning they can reach people who don’t consider themselves to be sports fans. By successfully tapping into all of this the NFL could transform the economics of the game and grow well beyond their traditional fan base in the US. In fact, with over 83,000 fans at each London game, only the Dallas Cowboys can boast of a higher attendance in the NFL.’

Jaguars Wembley 2015

While support for growing NFL internationally is more or less unanimous amongst the teams, the Jaguars need it more than most.

They have to compete with two massive teams in Florida, the Miami Dolphins and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Their local market is one of the smallest, if not the smallest, in the league. With the Dolphins and the Bucs limiting their growth in Florida, the Jags have had to look elsewhere, perhaps permanently. Haqi admitted the local market was an issue:

“It’s no secret that we are a small market. We tend to be challenged by the turnover in the market, so we need to look at other opportunities beyond Jacksonville sometimes to grow our local revenue. The UK represents a very significant opportunity to do that.”

Playing matches abroad is not exclusive to the NFL with the NBA’s Global Games seeing regular season fixtures take place across Mexico, the UK and Japan.

This on top of the numerous pre-season fixtures and exhibition games that have taken place in Asia, Europe and, for the first time in 2015, Africa.

Pat Williams co-founded the Orlando Magic back in 1987, with the Magic taking part in the most recent London game back in January.


Williams believes that there will continue to be interest in international fixtures from both sides.

“I don’t think there is any question this concept is going to grow. Adam Silver is asked frequently will there ever be an NBA team in Europe, I think maybe not in the foreseeable future – however I think we will see a lot of games played across the world, both pre-season and during the season.

“That’s going to continue at an aggressive level because the growth of the NBA through televised games and novelties, all these things that go into promoting a sport, t-shirts, hats and jackets; that’s at a very high level internationally as well. Of all the sports in America I think it’s evident the NBA is having the biggest impact around the world.

With much talk about an American sports franchise potentially moving to Europe – whether it be with the NBA or NFL, Hussain Naqi has admitted London would be a great places for a franchise in the future.

“One day that is a possibility certainly [of London hosted a franchise]. I query whether that day is five years from now, 10 years from now, that I don’t know. But I think it is an incredible fan base here, it is a very knowledgeable fan base here. There are about six million fans in the UK. It is ripe for a franchise eventually I think. What that time horizon is, time will tell.”

But the question of a London-based franchise is a complex one. Logistically it would be a challenge, but more importantly for the league and the teams, the commercial viability of the idea remains uncertain, despite the positive signs so far.

“There are just so many factors that go into it, which are still yet to be vetted and figured out. Not the least of which is whether this market is prepared to back a single team for eight to 10 games on a year-round basis, that’s still very much an open question.”

Richard Scudamore2016

Playing games across the globe is something that England’s financially juggernaut the Premier League are often rumoured to be tempted by.

The concept of the 39th game is one that had been discussed with the idea being an extra round of fixtures played at neutral venues across the globe. While that didn’t come to fruition, it is something that will interest Premier League Chairman – not least in attracting sponsors and brands.

Sponsors and brands will be watching this one with interest. A UK-based American sports team would open a new world of opportunities, both for US brands looking to get a foothold in the UK market, or European brands looking to extend into new sports.

In the meantime, the international series looks set to expand the NFL’s already impressive reach into global markets.

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