NFL International Series
Beginning with the 2007 season, the National Football League has hosted regular season American football games outside of the United States every year in a series known as the International Series. From 2007 and until at least 2016, games have been held in the United Kingdom, at London's Wembley Stadium. An NFL bid to become anchor tenants of London's Olympic Stadium failed.
Prior to 2005, the NFL's primary method of promoting its game abroad was through the American Bowl, a series of preseason games played around the world, and NFL Europe, a developmental league based in Europe. The American Bowls ended in 2005 (though a similar China Bowl was planned for 2007 before being cancelled), while NFL Europe (then known as NFL Europa) folded in 2007. On October 2, 2005, the Arizona Cardinals defeated the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 31–14 at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, under the name NFL Fútbol Americano. It was the first regular season NFL game held outside of the United States. The game drew the NFL's highest game attendance at the time with 103,467 spectators.
Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League, has considered expanding the league's appeal overseas ever since the end of NFL Europa. Goodell has openly discussed the idea of holding a future Super Bowl game in London. The NFL also investigated the possibility of adding a 17th regular season game to all teams, taking the place of the fourth pre-season game. Waller notes that there won't be 16 different venues for the 17th games. More likely would be a "mini-season ticket" of perhaps four games in one city or country. There was discussion that this "17th game" could take effect as early as the 2009 NFL season; however, 2010 would be the earliest this could be implemented because of concerns about playing on Labor Day or over the 2010 Winter Olympics, the league's rigid scheduling formula, and the league's collective bargaining agreement (CBA). League officials were pondering moving a second existing game abroad for the 2010 season, but eventually abandoned it due to the ongoing CBA negotiations. The league eventually abandoned their desire to expand the NFL season in the CBA negotiations, and the new CBA enacted in 2011 keeps the NFL schedule at 16 games.
Games in the United Kingdom are broadcast on Sky Sports, and also as of 2013 on Channel 4 and its sister More4 with an HD option where available, while highlights are shown on the BBC. On radio, the games are broadcast by BBC Radio 5 Live, with Arlo White commentating.
Typically, one of the games in Europe is played on the last weekend of October and/or the same weekend as Major League Baseball's World Series (although in 2009, this was not the case because the World Series played one week later than usual); until 2010, that week had no Sunday night game, allowing for the International Series to be the featured game of the day. Most of the International Series games have been played at 1:00 pm Eastern Time to account for time zone differences. Also, on the last Sunday in October, daylight saving time ends in Europe, one week earlier than it ends in the United States. Because of this, a game in London with a 1:00 pm EDT kickoff would begin at 5:00 pm local time instead of 6:00 pm. Games played in Canada or Mexico would not be subject to these restrictions because they are in the same time zones as the United States.
With the exception of 2011 and the Oakland vs Miami and Atlanta vs Detroit 2014 games, all games have featured a team from each conference.
The games have been popular, with tickets for the two games per season selling out in two days, nine months in advance. According to the NFL, only 3% of those attending the London games are Americans or American expatriates, while 22% are from London and 60% from elsewhere in Britain. Ticket prices are from £35 for end zone seats to £100 for lower sideline seats. Teams that are selected to give up a home game to play overseas are typically franchises that have been struggling with attendance at home games. In an effort to promote season ticket sales, this allows teams to sell a cheaper season ticket package that contains only seven regular season games rather than the usual eight.
On October 11, 2011, the NFL owners approved playing NFL games in Great Britain through the year 2016. This stated that a home team could visit every year for up to five years but visitors could only visit once every five year. This would mean that under the current agreement, San Francisco, New England and Pittsburgh will not be able to return as visitors but may return as the home team.
The Buffalo Bills received a unanimous vote of approval to play a series of regular season games at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario from 2008-2017, and a pre-season game in every other year, beginning in 2008. This will be separate from the regular International Series as arrangements are made by the team as opposed to the league as with the international series.
The Miami Dolphins hosted the New York Giants at Wembley Stadium in London, England on October 28, 2007. The Giants defeated the Dolphins 13–10 in the first regular season NFL game held outside of North America. The first 40,000 tickets sold out for the game in the first 90 minutes of sales.
The game was aired on Fox, but was not available nationwide in the United States. Portions of the midwestern and Rocky Mountain areas of the United States did not get to see the game on television, as they were shown a regional game. Thom Brennaman, Daryl Johnston, and Tony Siragusa were assigned to call the game.
Like the 2007 game, this matchup was not seen nationally, having only regional coverage on CBS. However, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, the network's top announcing team, were assigned to the game, and opening ceremonies were carried live before cutting away to local games.
The New England Patriots defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35–7 in the 2009 edition in front of 84,254 in attendance. The game was televised regionally in the United States by CBS and on Sky Sports and BBC One in the United Kingdom. CBS broadcasters Jim Nantz and Phil Simms were again assigned to the game. Simms noted during the opening of the game that "the fans in London came up to him and said they were more excited about this game than the previous two." It is most notably because the New England Patriots have a massive fan base in the United Kingdom and the fact that quarterback Tom Brady was the center of attention by the British media from the moment the Patriots arrived in London, more than the designated "home" team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whose owner, Malcolm Glazer, also owns Manchester United.
On October 31, 2010, the game was again played at London's Wembley Stadium. The San Francisco 49ers won 24-16 over the Denver Broncos. The weather, like the first 2007 NFL International Series game between the Dolphins and the Giants, was rainy throughout the day (but went on to clear up as the game itself approached). The game itself was a slow burner until the final period when it exploded into life. With Denver looking to steal the 'away' win, the 49ers, led by Troy Smith went on to take a 24-10 lead late in the game and went on to take the win 24-16. As an AFC team (Denver) was the visiting team, the game was once again carried on CBS, but with their number two announcing team of Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf.
The NFL announced on April 18, 2011, that the 2011 International Series game would feature the Chicago Bears facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Wembley Stadium on October 23, with the Buccaneers serving as the home team. Had the NFL lockout not been resolved by August 1, it would have reverted to Tampa Bay's Raymond James Stadium; the lockout was lifted on July 25, allowing the game to go forward. The game was the first in the International Series to feature two teams from the same conference (the NFC); a similar break from tradition was planned for the ultimately canceled Hall of Fame Game that year, which would have also featured the Bears. No reason was given for the change in either game. As this was an NFC away game, the game was televised on Fox, with their number two announcing team of Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, and Tony Siragusa. The Bears dominated the first half thanks to Matt Forté's early touchdown in the game. Tampa Bay struck back by forcing a safety on Forté, as well as an attempted second half comeback, but Tampa Bay's hopes of winning were dashed when Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman threw a game-ending interception to Bears cornerback Tim Jennings, sealing a Bears 24-18 victory.
On January 20, 2012, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed that from 2012 to 2014, the St. Louis Rams would play one of its eight home games each year at Wembley Stadium. The first of those games was on Sunday, October 28, 2012, against one of their interconference opponents, the New England Patriots. However, on August 13, 2012, the team announced that they would not play the proposed games in London in 2013 and 2014. Goodell had previously proposed the use of certain regular teams in the International Series in an effort to build a fan base for those teams, raising the prospect of a permanent NFL team on the British Isles. CBS aired the game, assigning their top announcing team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. The Patriots eventually won the game 45-7 in front of 84,004 fans.
On August 21, 2012, the Jacksonville Jaguars announced they had agreed to play a home game in London for four seasons from 2013 through 2016. Jacksonville will replace the St. Louis Rams, who backed out of a deal to play there in 2013 and 2014. With this announcement also came news that the NFL were working to schedule another UK game from 2013 onwards. On October 11, 2012, it was announced that the Jaguars were to face the San Francisco 49ers on October 27, 2013. This was the 49ers second game in London (after the 2010 London game against the Denver Broncos) and third internationally (after the 2005 Fútbol Americano game against the Arizona Cardinals in Mexico City). The San Francisco–Jacksonville game was aired on Fox, but with one of their lower-tier announcing teams: Chris Myers and Tim Ryan. The 49ers ended up defeating the Jaguars 42-10.
On October 14, 2012, ESPN leaked a rumor the Minnesota Vikings would also play a home game in London during the 2013 season, which will be the first time two games were played internationally in a season. The Vikings later confirmed this and confirmed that the official announcement and details were due to be made at the NFL owners' meeting in Chicago on October 16. At this meeting, it was revealed that the Vikings would play the Pittsburgh Steelers in London on September 29, 2013. CBS once again assigned their top announcing team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms to call the game. The Vikings defeated the Steelers 34-27.
The NFL announced two additional games for the 2014 season, with the Oakland Raiders hosting the Miami Dolphins on September 28, and the Atlanta Falcons hosting the Detroit Lions on October 26. This is in addition to the Jacksonville Jaguars' home game against the Dallas Cowboys on November 9. This will be the second of four scheduled Jacksonville Jaguars matches between 2013 and 2016. On December 4, 2013, the NFL announced that the Detroit–Atlanta game will start at 9:30 am ET (1:30 pm local time), the first time in league history that a game has started that early in the morning in the U.S. This will thus provide a quadruple-header on an NFL Sunday than the normal three windows (the 1:00 pm early slot, the 4:05 or 4:25 pm late afternoon slot, and the Sunday Night Football game).
|Year||Date||Television||Designated Visitors||Score||Designated Home||Score||Stadium||City||Crowd||NFL.com recap|
|2007||October 28||Fox||New York Giants||13||Miami Dolphins||10||Wembley Stadium||London||81,176||Recap|
|2008||October 26||CBS||San Diego Chargers||32||New Orleans Saints||37||Wembley Stadium||London||83,226||Recap|
|2009||October 25||CBS||New England Patriots||35||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||7||Wembley Stadium||London||84,254||Recap|
|2010||October 31||CBS||Denver Broncos||16||San Francisco 49ers||24||Wembley Stadium||London||83,941||Recap|
|2011||October 23||FOX||Chicago Bears||24||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||18||Wembley Stadium||London||76,981||Recap|
|2012||October 28||CBS||New England Patriots||45||St. Louis Rams||7||Wembley Stadium||London||84,004||Recap|
|2013||September 29||CBS||Pittsburgh Steelers||27||Minnesota Vikings||34||Wembley Stadium||London||83,518||Recap|
|October 27||FOX||San Francisco 49ers||42||Jacksonville Jaguars||10||Wembley Stadium||London||83,559||Recap|
|2014||September 28||CBS||Miami Dolphins||Oakland Raiders||Wembley Stadium||London|
|October 26||FOX||Detroit Lions||Atlanta Falcons||Wembley Stadium||London|
|November 9||FOX||Dallas Cowboys||Jacksonville Jaguars||Wembley Stadium||London|
|2015||TBA||TBA||TBA||Jacksonville Jaguars||Wembley Stadium||London|
|2016||TBA||TBA||TBA||Jacksonville Jaguars||Wembley Stadium||London|
Before the Chargers and Saints were announced to be the two teams headed to London in 2008, the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks were identified as teams interested in playing a future game in Europe. In particular, Seattle, which had been slated to play the China Bowl before that game was cancelled, had shown a continued interest in playing a game abroad. Tampa Bay eventually got the 2009 and 2011 games. Both the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins have similarly expressed interest in returning to the UK in a rematch of 2007's international series. There have also been negotiations between the Pittsburgh Steelers (whose owner, Dan Rooney, was the United States Ambassador to Ireland) and Croke Park in Dublin, Republic of Ireland for a potential International Series game there.
The Rams and the Buccaneers are both under co-ownership with teams in the English Premier League, the top association football league in England; the Rams are under co-ownership with Arsenal Football Club of London, while the Buccaneers are co-owned with Manchester United. From 2006 until 2012, the Cleveland Browns were also under co-ownership with Aston Villa before Randy Lerner sold the Browns to Jimmy Haslam, and since 2013, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan also owns Fulham F.C.
Within the British Isles, aside from London, potential candidates for hosting NFL games include Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales; Murrayfield in Edinburgh, Scotland. Other prime areas to get games would be Ireland (Ireland has already hosted the NCAA Emerald Isle Classic, a college football game similar to the International Series); Germany; Mexico; and Canada (Canada already hosts the Bills Toronto Series). Mark Waller, NFL senior vice president, international, doubts Asia or Australia would be targeted because of the travel concerns, but he doesn't dismiss anything. The Jacksonville Jaguars' agreement stipulated that all future International Series games in the current agreement would take place at Wembley, ruling out other locations. The league has stated that if games in the British Isles are successful, the league will then attempt to expand to continental Europe.
An Associated Press article discussing the potential for expanding the NFL suggested that European and Asian markets were the only likely expansion areas likely to bring in the revenue necessary to make it work, but that such an ambitious expansion plan would not be considered until the 2030s at the earliest.
Goodell and other league officials are interested in expanding outside the United States, and view the International Series as a way to build fan interest in a London-based team. Two sources who attended a presentation on the subject during a meeting of team owners in October 2012, for example, stated that the NFL is actively working to establish a team in London. One said that "It didn't sound like an if, we took it as a when", and the other said "I left that meeting thinking this isn't 20 years away, this is happening in five to 10 years." NFL executives reportedly believe that the league would relocate a team as opposed to adding to the current 32 teams, and that the Jaguars are the most likely to move to Britain.
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