London could get its own NFL franchise - UK chief

LONDON Thu Aug 23, 2012 4:41pm BST

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LONDON (Reuters) - London is one step closer to getting its own NFL franchise, with the sport's UK managing director Alistair Kirkwood saying on Thursday that the sport's global expansion plans are slowly ticking all the right boxes.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are the latest team to make London a permanent home away from home after signing a four-year deal which will see them play one game a season in the English capital starting from next year.

Kirkwood and his NFL UK staff have helped turn the sport's International Series, which began in 2007, into a roaring success that sells out Wembley Stadium each year.

A league meeting in Houston last year voted to continue playing games in Britain until at least 2016.

"I think the first chapter has been considered a success with the owners voting on a renewal going forward. Jacksonville returning is also a sign of maturity of the concept," Kirkwood told Reuters in an interview.

"What this now does is allow us to test if we can bring in more new fans and boost a single team recognition.

"Once that period has come up we will then have learnt an awful lot about it and know what the viability for us going forward is and then be in a great position to make a call (on a London franchise)," added Kirkwood.

The popular International Series has boosted the NFL's profile across Europe.

The inaugural game between the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins injected an estimated 23 million pounds into the English capital's economy, according to the London and Partners promotional organisation.

POTENTIAL GROWTH

Numbers released by NFL UK also augur well for potential growth.

According to NFL UK there are two million British fans and TV ratings for American football games shown on Sundays have increased by 154 percent.

The Super Bowl has attracted a large audience rise with a 74 percent uplift recorded since 2006.

The St Louis Rams continue the Wembley series against last year's Super Bowl runners-up the New England Patriots when the sixth instalment is played on October 28.

"Part of our theory here is that London could someday be a host for an NFL franchise," commissioner Roger Goodell told the Jacksonville team's website (www.jaguars.com).

"Every time we've taken another step in exposing our game to a global audience they've wanted more. We went from pre-season games, because they wanted to see competitive games with the best players, to regular-season games and now they want more.

"We are likely to take the next step from one game a year to two games a year and maybe even beyond that."

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

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