JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars will play consecutive home games in London next season, potentially strengthening the franchise’s foothold in an overseas market the NFL is eager to expand.
The Jaguars will play back-to-back games at historic Wembley Stadium to improve revenue during “a period of significant change within the league,” team President Mark Lamping said Tuesday. Dates and opponents were not announced. Jacksonville protected home games against Pittsburgh and Chicago, so those teams will play at TIAA Bank Field.
Lamping said the recent relocation of the Chargers, Raiders and Rams will move all three out of the bottom fourth of the NFL in local revenue. Jacksonville continues to look for ways to increase its revenue.
The Jags have played a “home game” at Wembley every year since 2013 and is under contract to do so through 2020. Owner Shad Khan and Lamping expect to extend the contract. It’s unclear whether the next deal will include two games annually abroad.
“Right now, this is about two games this season," Khan said. "I’m a big believer in you judge by actions and not just by words. We’ve talked about possibly playing two games (in London). But we’re not the sole judge here of the decision-maker. I think it has to make sense for the league, which ultimately decides. But right now this is just about two games this season.”
The NFL is considering moving to a 17-game, regular-season schedule under the next collective bargaining agreement, a change that could help the Jaguars and other clubs play at varying venues without penalizing fan bases accustomed to attending the same number of games a year.
Jacksonville insists that playing an extra game in London this year will help alleviate some issues involving a new development outside its aging stadium. Khan is sharing the cost of a $700 million project expected to break ground this spring in the main parking lot adjacent to the stadium.
The “Lot J” proposal calls for an entertainment district that includes restaurants, bars, luxury condominiums, an office tower and a five-star hotel. The renovated area could revive downtown Jacksonville and position the area to host “world-class events.”
In the meantime, the Jaguars are looking for additional revenue streams.
“We need to continue to do more. We can’t do this overnight," Lamping said. "These games in London will provide us with financial benefits during a much-needed time during the transition from where we are today until we open Lot J.
“We’re more confident than ever that we can be the catalyst to help the Jaguars and the city of Jacksonville realize our full potential.”
Jacksonville, which has failed to regularly fill its stadium over the past 20 years (15 losing seasons), more than doubles its single-game revenue from playing overseas.
Jacksonville's ticket, television, sponsorship and stadium revenue streams are smaller than those of NFL teams in larger markets. Earning money in London helps offset some of the disparity, and the game remains a critical part of the team's long-term plan.
The franchise got extended marketing rights in the United Kingdom when it signed its deal with the NFL in 2013 and even has an office and a 50,000-member fan club in London. The Jags credit about 11% of their local revenue to playing annually abroad. They expect that number to jump significantly with two games there.
While some assume that playing an additional game in London is the next step in Jacksonville moving there, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said last week before the Super Bowl in Miami that he’s skeptical about the logistics of having a permanent team overseas.
“The issue for us still is: Can we do this competitively for the team that is based there but also for the 31 other clubs?" he said. “That involves scheduling, it involves a lot of other matters that you don’t want to compromise. And until we can get comfortable on that, I don’t think we’ll be NFL-ready in London.”
With other NFL teams wanting the financial boost that comes with playing in London, Khan tried to improve Jacksonville's position there by bidding $790 million (£600 million) to buy Wembley in 2018. He eventually withdrew his offer for the English Football Association's main asset after recognizing the extent of opposition to the sale.
Khan and the Jaguars insist the move was never intended to create a potential relocation spot, but rather a way to gain more control over American football in the burgeoning market. It also would have funneled more money back to Jacksonville.
Khan remains open to buying Wembley if it were to end up back on the market.