The Jacksonville Jaguars will become the first NFL American football team to play multiple ‘home’ games outside the United States in the same regular season when it hosts two fixtures at London’s Wembley Stadium later this year.
However, the franchise has played down suggestions that the announcement could lead to a permanent relocation away from its current home in Florida.
The Jaguars have taken one ‘home’ game to London every year since 2013 as part of a long-term arrangement designed to entrench them in the minds of the NFL’s UK fan base. This contract is due to expire following the 2020 season, with the team yesterday (Tuesday) admitting that extending the agreement is not completely in its hands.
While the dates of the games and the Jaguars’ opponents have not yet been disclosed, team officials have said 2020 home games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears will remain in Jacksonville. The Jaguars’ commitment to the UK has often seen the team painted as the most realistic candidate should the NFL choose to establish a permanent franchise in London.
“What we plan for the 2020 season and maybe a bit longer is all about believing in what Jacksonville can ultimately become, all while continuing to further grow and develop partnerships and a fan following in London and throughout the UK that have turned out to be pretty remarkable,” the franchise’s owner, Shad Khan, told local media.
“This isn’t about next season or the next few seasons in Jacksonville, but really about the next 10 years, 25 years and beyond. There is no better time than now to capitalise on the opportunity to play two home games in London, where we will continue to develop our loyal and growing fan base there and throughout the UK, during a period in which I will be focused heavily on creating a new downtown experience that we want, need and must have here.
“We have an exceptional opportunity right in front of us for Jacksonville to meet its potential and be the city I imagined we’d become when I arrived here in 2011. I am optimistic and believe it will happen.”
The Jaguars have stressed that the timing of Tuesday’s announcement is strategically aligned with the team’s broader plans in Jacksonville; and specifically its Lot J project. In August, the City of Jacksonville pushed forward with plans to transform the area surrounding TIAA Bank Field, home of the Jaguars, by announcing an agreement had been struck to develop a multi-purpose complex.
When completed, Phase One of the proposed $500m (£383m/€453m) Lot J project in partnership with Cordish Companies would feature an entertainment district, a 200-room hotel, residential buildings offering 405 units and additional parking.
Jaguars president Mark Lamping said a drafted development agreement for Lot J is currently “in front of the city” with the goal of a deal being signed over the next two months. “We believe London is of particular importance to us, and growing importance to us as we go through the transition over the next several years as Lot J goes from a vision to reality,” Lamping said.
“We can’t snap our fingers and get Lot J open tomorrow. As we’re waiting to go from where we are now – which is Lot J just a vision – to it actually being open, we need to be looking for those opportunities to supplement our revenue situation. We believe London fits that bill. Not only is it the right time to do it, but it’s the right action for us.”
The Jaguars also announced that in 2020 season-ticket members will receive a 50% discount on pre-season games and “favourable” variable pricing on the six regular-season games in Jacksonville. The team claims this will result in an overall average ticket price reduction of 5%, representing a 15% saving off the bill for fans last season.
Lamping also addressed the long-term future of TIAA Bank Field, stating that talks have commenced with the city regarding a full assessment of a stadium that “in all likelihood would not meet the needs of the city or the football team 10, 15, 20 years from now”. Lamping said the evaluation process will likely take 12 months with assessments and planning taking an additional 36 to 48 months.
However, the Jaguars have stated that the London games, plus initiatives like Lot J, are seen as a means of boosting revenue. The Jaguars currently sit in the bottom quarter when it comes to the local revenue of NFL teams. Lamping said the moves this year of the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers into SoFi Stadium, plus the Las Vegas Raiders’ switch to Allegiant Stadium, make the Jaguars’ goal of improving their revenue standing even more challenging.
Lamping said the Jaguars would never consider relocation purely to enhance local revenue, and noted the New England Patriots’ mixed-use development, Patriot Place, as an example of creative thinking to boost income.
“Here you have undoubtedly the single-most successful team in the NFL in terms of their performance on the field,” Lamping added. “Yet, even a team like that believes it’s necessary to grow your revenue – to focus on winning, but at the same time be generating the type of revenue outside the stadium that allows you to continue to compete within the league. The league is full of examples like that.”