|How 'bout them Cowboys? Well, probably not in London|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 25 October 2007 11:07|
So, when can we expect to see America's Team in London?
``Well, that probably wouldn't work for us,'' Jones said Thursday of the NFL's newest international marketing project.
Jones' take was one of the few sobering opinions to come out of interviews during a conference of international sports leaders being held in conjunction with the NFL's first regular-season game outside North America.
The majority said the Giants-Dolphins game, scheduled for Sunday at sold-out Wembley Stadium, is a logical and positive next step in a project more than 30 years in the making. The first overseas NFL game was an exhibition contest in Tokyo in 1976.
``I wouldn't want to put any kind of number on it,'' said the NFL's international vice president, Mark Waller, when asked how big this international push could get. ``I don't think if anyone sat 20 years ago in any office, they'd have predicted that in 2007 we'd have 32 teams and the revenue we have and the passionate 170 million fan base. Our job is to give the fans the best we can and evolve and meet their needs.''
Over the past several weeks, commissioner Roger Goodell has floated the idea of an overseas Super Bowl. Waller has gone public with a number of ideas, including adding a 17th regular-season game to ensure every team one international game a year, and expanding the league to include teams on different continents.
``Not even in the picture,'' Jones said of international expansion. ``We don't have a team in Los Angeles yet.''
A bit more certain is that the NFL will be coming back to Europe.
Owners already have agreed to play two games a year overseas starting next year. The participants likely will be announced during Super Bowl week. Just as certain is that Dallas - the most popular team in England, just ahead of Miami and the Giants - won't be one of those teams.
Jones said his main concern these days is getting his new stadium built to open by 2009 and host a Super Bowl in 2011.
But he has other reasons not to come.
``Our game is much like it is in soccer,'' Jones said. ``It's my team versus your team. You take Dallas versus Washington, and there's a lot there when you play that game in Dallas. You play that same game somewhere else, and it's going to feel more like an exhibition. Not that that's what it would be. But there are challenges.''
Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga, being lauded by the NFL for sacrificing a home game, said he believes more than half the owners gladly would play a game overseas for the exposure it gives them and the league.
And Giants co-owner Steve Tisch doesn't think Jones speaks for everyone, either.
``Jerry's entitled to his opinion - his is one of many opinions he's had,'' Tisch said. ``I think overall, the league is going to come out of this very, very pleased.''
The 90,000 tickets for the game were sold out almost immediately after they went on sale. There's almost universal agreement that though Londoners aren't considered huge football aficionados, they know they'll get the real thing Sunday.
Nick Szczepanik of The Times of London said the interest began in the 1980s, before soccer was as huge in England, and around the time Londoners started receiving regular doses of American football coverage on TV.
``People saw those sunkissed fields in Dallas and Miami and Los Angeles. It was new and stunning and fresh, and we bought into it,'' Szczepanik said. ``A lot of people spent a lot of time pretending to speak knowledgeably about third downs and tight ends for a while, and the whole thing worked.''
Szczepanik believes there is a residual effect of that early introduction, and now the NFL must market to a new set of fans if it wants to meet its next goal.
``It's really not about this game,'' he said. ``It's the third, fourth and fifth games they do here. If you get to where it's the Jaguars and Texans two years from now and that's still a sellout, then you've got something.''
The question is, what would they really have?
Goodell, probably rightfully, believes globalization in a society brimming with new technology is the only way to stay relevant in the future.
Waller is leading that effort. To make a real go of it, he'll have a fight on his hands with coaches and players, who may not mind taking six-hour flights for exhibitions, but have a much different view of things when the real games begin.
``My reaction was that it is an away game, and it still is an away game,'' Giants coach Tom Coughlin said, treading gingerly on the topic. ``And that is as political as I can say it.''
Waller said opinions of players and coaches will play a role in the NFL's next step, though turning back does not sound like an option.
``We have a league resolution to play up to two games a year overseas,'' Waller said. ``We intend to fulfill that next year.''
Germany, Mexico and Canada are also in the mix to host these games. Any effort to expand into China's burgeoning market has been pushed back to 2009, after the Olympics end. In fact, the NFL doesn't even know who will operate Olympic Stadium after the Beijing Games.
Waller insists the entire project is about finding more fans.
``We don't have a business projection,'' he said. ``This is really about growing our sport and our fan base. If it was about money, we'd be playing this game in Miami on Sunday at 1 p.m.''
Of course, Waller acknowledged, building the fan base and making money go hand in hand.
Even Jones is on board for that.
``I think this is all good for the league and good for some teams. My hat is off to Wayne Huizenga,'' Jones said. ``But it just doesn't work for us.''