NFL teams use new rights to jockey for fans, UK revenue

LONDON (AP) – Chants of “J-E-T-S” gave way to abuse of British quarterback Joe Flacco at a London stadium where fans watched the Cincinnati Bengals comfortably win last week.

However, Sebastian Randazzo is optimistic. An Englishman who founded a Jets fan club said interest in the NFL is “absolutely growing.”

“We hope that we continue to see this grow with clubs that are aware of their presence in the UK,” he said on Sunday. “It’s a good thing for us fans.”

Twenty teams are targeting those fans after the NFL split its British advertising rights. They sign business deals and hire local media people with the aim of growing their following and getting international money.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are Britain’s unofficial home team – and they intend to keep that status – but now they face competition.

The San Francisco 49ers signed a deal with the TalkSport radio station to broadcast the games. The Jets struck a deal with a U.K. menswear brand. Charles Tyrwhitt.

They don’t just focus on London, either. The Chicago Bears held youth clinics in eight cities – including Wales and Scotland – this summer. The Minnesota Vikings sent their mascot and cheerleaders to Manchester ahead of their game against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

“There are a lot of details. This is just the beginning,” said Martin Nance, Vikings vice president and chief marketing officer.

However, the Jaguars are determined to maintain their status as top dog. They have hired an NFL executive to oversee the relaunch of their brand in Britain. The Jags have played in London nearly every year since 2013 and will face the Denver Broncos on Oct. 30 in the first game of a three-year partnership with Wembley Stadium.

“There are other teams in the market, but obviously we’re doing more, investing more … in terms of people and financial investment,” said Chad Johnson, Jags chief executive officer. “Just because they have rights in the market, it doesn’t mean they are willing to play football here…

Jockeying has strengthened in the build-up to three London games in October. This is all because the NFL is starting its international “home selling point” program. Eighteen teams were granted rights – in different countries, eight in total – in five-year agreements through which the teams can sell sponsorships and goods, building their “brands” in the world wide and attract new followers.

The other seven countries are Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Mexico and Spain. Some teams have rights in more than one country, such as the Miami Dolphins with Brazil, Spain and the UK International expansion was another reason why the NFL added a 17th game to the schedule.

Alex Chang, chief marketing officer for the 49ers, who own rights in the UK and Mexico, said: “These are underperforming markets for us.” “Now that we have the rights there, we can do a lot with it. We can grow that fanbase more aggressively. It’s really clear here, but we have to invest to get to that level. ”

The teams did not disclose budgets or revenue estimates, but Chang said the team has made “huge investments” in the project.

The 49ers, who play in Mexico City on Nov. 21 against the Arizona Cardinals, who are part owners of the Premier League football club Leeds and plan to hold their first “watch party” with fans in the northern city during the game this month. They canceled the earlier one after the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

“In this (five-year) period, we will want to play with the UK,” Chang said.

The Jets played in London last year and are now working closely with fan groups to create a “continuous drumbeat” of activity, team spokesman Eric Gelfand said.

It is difficult to measure the potential revenue, but sports economist Victor Matheson of the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts said it is instructive to consider the success of the Premier League in the United States. The league signed a six-year deal with NBC worth more than $2 billion despite not playing regular-season games in the U.S.

“The NFL would love to enter the U.K. like the Premier League has entered the U.S.,” Matheson said, adding that the league is looking abroad because it “developed the U.S. market.”

The Jags were granted permission in 2013 to advertise in Britain, and the club raised the bar with its new Wembley deal. That’s because the Jags — not the NFL — will be playing the game, handling everything from food to hospitality packages. For fans, it will look and feel like a real “home” game.

“We took a chance,” said Maria Gigante, who left the NFL in January to become the Jags’ vice president of U.K. operations. “We increased the ticket prices a little. We took the initiative to host…and exceeded our goals. ”

They are expecting a full house of 84,000 fans. In the team’s most recent home game, a 24-0 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 18, the attendance was less than 60,000.

Even with exchange rate fluctuations, the Wembley game is “more profitable” than the Jacksonville game, said Johnson, the chief operating officer.

The Jags have a history with Wembley, having played all but one of their eight London games there. Jags owner Shad Khan, who also owns Premier League club Fulham, is even trying to buy the stadium from the English Football Association. The club is now using the money to improve the finances at Wembley.

There are conference calls with the NFL, and the teams work together sometimes, Gigante said, but it’s a competitive environment.

“For other teams, they’re more focused on global growth and getting their toes in the water in different areas. For us, it’s about increasing our exposure in the U.K., it’s about being a U.K. team. ”

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