Roger Goodell pitches British invasion
The NFL is considering a plan to have a few teams play regularly in Britain to build an overseas following -- part of the league's evaluation about whether a franchise could be permanently based in London.
Commissioner Roger Goodell said Saturday the league is looking into whether such a scenario would "advance our cause here by growing the fan base quicker."
He is talking to several teams about becoming regulars in the British capital, a development he thinks would be "very powerful and lead us to what we ultimately would like to do -- have a franchise here in London."
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are making their second trip in three years to Wembley to play the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
It is the fifth regular-season game held in London since 2007.
The league decided this month to keep playing in London through at least 2016, with an aim to play at least two games a year.
Goodell said multiple games in Britain could happen as early as next year, and he hopes more teams will agree to make regular trips.
"We want as many teams to come over. We want to see the more popular teams come over," Goodell said at a question-and-answer session with international fans. "Should we focus on just a couple of teams as consistently coming back here to build a fan base around those teams? The Bucs are coming back now for a second time in a five-year period of time. And the idea is, will that allow them to build a fan base quicker?"
Goodell praised the Glazer family, which owns both the Bucs and Premier League team Manchester United, for taking a leading role in promoting the game overseas. He said the Bucs are one of several teams the league has been in discussions with over more London visits.
"Obviously, the Glazer family has an interest over here with Man U," Goodell said. "And I think they want to see the Bucs become a global franchise. And I think that's a great thing for Tampa. I think it's a great thing for the NFL."
The league's ambitions haven't been dampened by a decrease in ticket sales this year. Sunday's game is the first of the five regular-season games at Wembley that is not expected to be a sellout. Organizers say an estimated 75,000 tickets have been sold, with the stadium's capacity about 82,000.
Goodell echoed organizers' claims that the lower sales were caused by the lockout, which meant tickets didn't go on sale until September -- several months later than usual.
"We started late," Goodell said. "But we're thrilled with our ticket sales. We obviously love to sell as many as we have, and we're still selling."
He said the NFL has no plans to play in other European countries in the near future, looking to establish as big a presence as possible in Britain first.
"We want to bring our game to continental Europe. The issue is, we want to make a success out of it in the U.K.," he said. "We think this (London) has got all of the basics that we need to be successful. It's got an advanced fan base, a strong media market, a great stadium. We have a long history here. So all those things contribute, let's make it work. And if we can be successful here, then we can take that model, potentially, to continental Europe."
Goodell was joined by Jerome Bettis, the former Pittsburgh Steelers running back who is one of several NFL stars who have flown to London to promote the game. "The Bus" was given a warm reception by a knowledgeable group of about 100 fans, but said he's had to tweak his nickname this week to fit in.
"I'm a double-decker now," he said.