By Nancy Armour |
The biggest move on NFL Draft day, one that could reshape the future of the entire league, had nothing to do with Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen or Lamar Jackson.
It was the announcement that Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan has put in an offer to buy London’s Wembley Stadium.
Khan, the NFL and the Jacksonville mayor can spin it any way they like, but this move is exactly what it appears: Khan is positioning the Jaguars to be the league’s first permanent team in London.
The NFL’s London Games have proved to be a resounding success, going from a novelty act a decade ago to an established part of the British sporting landscape. Games sell out regardless of who’s playing, and it’s no longer only ex-pats bemoaning Rob Gronkowski’s latest injury or wondering if the Cleveland Browns will ever find a quarterback.
But expanding its global footprint is key to the NFL becoming a $25 billion industry, and that’s going to take more than another game or two in London. It’s going to require at least one team there permanently, and more likely two or three.
Khan had already given the Jaguars the inside track, agreeing five years ago to have his team play one game a season in London through at least 2020.
It was a brilliant move simply from a business standpoint. The Jaguars are one of the league’s smallest-market teams and, until last season, weren’t particularly good. One sold-out game at Wembley, which seats about 84,000, helps keep the Jaguars afloat even as they struggle to fill Everbank Field in Jacksonville.
Say the league decides to target 2025 as the first season for a London team but the Jaguars’ attendance woes continue. Khan could go to his fellow owners and say he needs to move earlier, and they can give the go-ahead knowing it will mean little aggravation or expense to the NFL.
It also protects him should the NFL decide it would prefer to move another team. Like, say, the Chargers, when the experiment in Los Angeles proves to be the dumpster fire we can all see coming.
It’s a good insurance policy for the league, too. Tottenham, a soccer team in the Premier League, is building a new stadium in North London with an NFL team in mind and, beginning next season, it will host two games a season. With Khan’s Jaguars at Wembley, the NFL is free to put another team at Tottenham and immediately strengthen the league’s foothold in the United Kingdom.
Of course no one will acknowledge that now. Khan portrayed the move as a way to ensure that the Jaguars are viable in both cities.
“If my ownership interests were to include Wembley Stadium, it would protect the Jaguars’ position in London at a time when other NFL teams are understandably becoming more interested in this great city,” Khan said in a statement. “And the stronger the Jaguars are in London, the more stable and promising the Jaguars’ future will be in Jacksonville.”
The league and Jacksonville’s mayor echoed that line, but we all know better. The Jaguars are officially on the clock, and not the one for the draft.
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.