In 2014, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that he would like to see an NFL team in London. He said this while in London for the Cowboys’ one and only appearance at the NFL London Games. Every NFL team has been to London except for the Green Bay Packers, but that doesn’t mean that the other 31 teams are sharing the European load equally.
The most willing participant is a team in one of the smallest markets in the league, the Jacksonville Jaguars. They have played in London every season since 2013, and consider London their second home. In fact, the Jaguars are so all-in on London that they were scheduled to play two of their eight home games there in 2020 before COVID forced them to play all of their home games in front of their home fans. The game has even become a real source of revenue for the Jaguars. The team says its annual England game accounts for about 11 percent of their local revenue.
For the rest of the league, that game is more like a tax. Depending on how many games are scheduled in London, 2-4 teams in total could be out one home game. That’s tickets, parking, luxury boxes, and concessions that those teams are not cashing in on for one of the handful of weeks that they are able to host a professional football game. Jones would host every major event in America at AT&T Stadium if he could. It’s hard to imagine he would be thrilled with tumbleweeds rolling through his stadium parking lots on a week when the most valuable sports franchise in the world would normally be playing.
Still, these games aren’t going anywhere. The London Games have been the staple of the NFL International Series since 2007, and the league is looking to expand even further into Europe. There are currently three cities in Germany that are finalists to host an NFL game. Maybe the Washington Football Team could go there annually and get out of America’s sight for one NFL Sunday per year.
I understand the NFL wanting to strengthen its influence overseas. There’s no reason to leave money on the table. However, if playing games overseas is the way they want to achieve that goal, those games can’t continue to be Jaguars vs. Dolphins, Jets vs. Falcons, or Panthers vs. the pre-Tom Brady Buccaneers. The high-profile NFL franchises need to participate, specifically the most valuable franchise in the world.
The NBA has a gigantic presence overseas because the league sent its best. Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics played in the second-ever McDonald’s Open in Europe in 1988. The Last Dance begins with the Chicago Bulls at the same event in 1997. LeBron James, James Harden, and many other players have spent time in China as well as played in exhibition games. The NBA now generates so much revenue overseas that a Daryl Morey tweet that the Chinese government didn’t appreciate presented a legitimate threat to the league’s bottom line five months before the COVID-19 pandemic.
If the NFL wants that kind of revenue from Europe, it’s not going to come from the Jaguars continuing to play there along with a struggling New York football team, and some other teams that don’t resonate nationally in America. The NFL is going to have to send its Larry Bird and Michael Jordan to the International Series. That means teams like the Packers, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jerry’s Cowboys are gonna have to make that trans-Atlantic flight regularly, and maybe even sacrifice a home game to do so.
That’s how investments work. Money is sacrificed on the front end, in hopes of a greater return down the road. Jones and the other big-money owners are going to have to forget a team in London or accept that at some point, the most popular franchise in Europe from an NFL owner won’t even be the Jaguars. It will be Jaguars owner Tony Khan’s All Elite Wrestling.