That’s the date I’ve heard for years that the NFL has targeted for a London franchise. That’s the one that, every year, I run by people at the league office, to see if they still believe it’s feasible as it draws closer. And that’s the target that those I’ve talked to over in the U.K., and elsewhere at the club level, have said remains in place.
News broke early Thursday that Jaguars owner Shad Khan put in a bid to buy Wembley Stadium, the venue for 18 of the 21 International Series games the league has staged in the U.K. over the last 11 seasons. Khan’s bid for the 11-year-old venue is reportedly hovering around $1.25 billion, more than what he paid combined for the Jags and Fulham F.C., his London-based soccer team currently playing in the English second tier.
So this wasn’t done on a whim. And since the Jags play in the NFL’s smallest market, the natural question is whether or not this move is clearing the franchise for takeoff to the other side of the Atlantic.
In the wake of all this, I ran the 2022 date by a well-placed source Thursday morning, and was told that the timing on that goal for the league remained in place, without mentioning the Jaguars specifically. That was right around when Khan released a statement.
“I am very pleased to learn today that The Football Association board of directors received our offer to purchase Wembley Stadium, our home away from home in London, from the FA,” it said. “One of the many benefits of the Jaguars’ commitment to London has been our partnership with the FA and Wembley Stadium. Over the past several years, it became clearer to us and the FA that the idea of our purchase of Wembley Stadium made a lot of sense for all of us.”
The statement continued, “For the Jaguars, it would deliver another—and very significant—asset and local revenue source that would further strengthen our investment in London, which everyone know is crucial to the Jaguars’ continued sustainability in Jacksonville.”
Khan called it “good news for the Jaguars and all of Jacksonville.”
It remains to be seen if this is lip service on the order of the way the Rams’ claims that Stan Kroenke’s 2014 purchase of Hollywood Park in Los Angeles had nothing to do with the NFL, or moving the team from St. Louis. And it should be noted that Khan has invested pretty heavily into Jacksonville, twice seeing through major renovations to EverBank Field, and being selecting by the city just last year to develop 70 acres of land on the city’s riverfront.
That’s “good” for Jacksonville, of course. So how could the purchase of Wembley be “good” for Jacksonville, too?
As Khan said, it would allow the franchise’s footprint, along with Fulham’s, to grow in London and make both more profitable, with the belief that there’s a lot of growth potential for Wembley as an entertainment venue. Also, Wembley is not set up for American football, and Khan could renovate (putting in a sunk turf field underneath the soccer pitch, adding new locker rooms) to rectify that.
There’s also the possibility that’s been whispered—and met with some skepticism in the league office and met with some skepticism in the league office—that an NFL franchise in London could be shared with a U.S. city. The Jaguars have played one home game per year in London annually since 2013, and are under contract to continue with that through 2025.
Is the idea of playing half their schedule in London feasible?
What we know, for now, is that the NFL continues to move forward with a venture into London that started in 2007 with the 15-year goal of getting a team there, something that’s been seen as a legacy project for certain owners. They’re into the stage of testing how a team would hold up there now.
This year there will be games in the U.K. on three straight Sundays to see how the fan base responds, and a new stadium at Tottenham, in which the NFL made an eight-figure investment, will open as the first of its kind, built with both soccer and American football in mind.
There are still logistical issues for a U.K. team that time difference and distance would create, particularly in one-off situations like the playoffs. But the league is working on those too—one such scenario has included the NFL buying the Falcons’ Flowery Branch, Ga., facility to be a U.S. base for a London team, if Atlanta owner Arthur Blank were to build a new practice ground for his team closer to its downtown stadium.
And so yes, 2022 is on table.
Was Thursday a big step forward as part of that effort? That remains to be seen.
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