NFL teams use new fan jockey rights and UK revenue

LONDON (AP) — “JETS” chants gave way to quarterback Joe Flacco’s British-accented rebuke at the London sports pub where fans watched the Cincinnati Bengals relax victory Last week.

Sebastian Randazzo is optimistic, however. The young Englishman who founded a Jets fan club said interest in the NFL was “absolutely booming”.

“I hope we continue to see this grow with teams making their presence known in the UK,” he said on Sunday. “It’s great for us fans.”

Half a dozen teams are aggressively targeting those fans after the NFL split marketing rights in Britain. They sign business deals and hire local media personalities in an effort to expand their fan base and tap into international revenue.

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

The San Francisco 49ers have signed a deal with TalkSport radio station to broadcast games. The Jets have reached an agreement with British menswear brand Charles Tyrwhitt.

They aren’t just focused 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 strengths. This is just the beginning,” said Martin Nance, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Vikings.

The Jaguars, however, aim to retain their top dog status. They hired an NFL executive to oversee a relaunch of their brand in Britain. The Jags have played a game in London almost every year since 2013 and will face the Denver Broncos on October 30 in the first game of a three-year deal with Wembley Stadium.

“There are other teams in the market, but clearly we’re doing more, we’re investing more…both from a people perspective and a monetary investment,” said Chad Johnson, director of the operation of the Jags. “Just because they have the market rights doesn’t mean they’ve committed to playing football games here… multiple football games here.”

The jockey has stepped up in preparation for the three London games in October. This is all the result of the NFL’s launch of its international “home market zone” program. Eighteen teams have secured the rights — in various countries, eight in total — to five-year deals during which teams can sell sponsorships and merchandise, build their “global brands” and attract new fans.

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 United Kingdom. International expansion was one of the reasons why the NFL added a 17th game on schedule.

“These are under-tapped markets for us,” said Alex Chang, marketing director for the 49ers, who own the rights in the UK and Mexico. “Now that we have rights there, we can do a lot more. We can grow that fan base much more proactively. It’s really a pure advantage here, but we have to invest to achieve this advantage.

The teams did not disclose budgets or revenue forecasts, but Chang said the team had made a “significant investment” in the initiative.

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

“During this (five-year) period, we will also be looking to play in the UK,” Chang said.

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

It’s hard to gauge the potential revenue, but sports economist Victor Matheson of the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts said it was instructive to consider the success of the Premier League in the United States. The league signed a six-year contract with NBC is worth more than $2 billion despite having no regular season games in the United States

“The NFL would be delighted to make the same sort of foray into the UK that the Premier League did in the US,” Matheson said, adding that the league is looking overseas as it has “pretty much overtaken the American market.

The Jags were granted marketing clearance in Britain in 2013, and the team upped the ante with their new deal at Wembley. That’s because the Jags — not the NFL — will be running the game, handling everything from catering to lucrative hospitality packages. For fans, it will look 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 UK operations. “We have slightly increased the price of our tickets. We took ownership of hospitality execution…and exceeded our targets.

They expect a packed house of 84,000 fans. In the team’s last home game, a 24-0 victory against the Indianapolis Colts on September 18, attendance was less than 60,000.

Even with exchange rate fluctuations, a game at Wembley is “significantly more profitable” than a game at Jacksonville, 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, even tried to buy the stadium of the English Football Association. The team is now spending money on capital improvements at Wembley.

There are conference calls with the NFL and teams collaborate on occasion, Gigante said, but it’s a competitive environment.

“For the other teams, they’re very focused on global expansion and dipping their toes in the waters in different areas. For us, it’s about maximizing opportunities in the UK, it’s about being there. UK team.


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Sallie R. Loera