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London remains the centrepiece for NFL’s European ambitions despite the organisation eyeing games elsewhere on the continent as early as next year.
Brett Gosper left his position as chief executive of World Rugby to become head of NFL Europe & UK at the start of this year. Ahead of the two games at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as part of the NFL’s 10-year deal, he said: “The UK is the beachhead for Europe as far as I’m concerned and the model from where we can base our success in other markets.”
The capital has hosted games since 2007 with another two looming as the New York Jets face the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday and the Miami Dolphins take on the Jacksonville Jaguars the following weekend.
The league have a deal for four games played abroad each season – two currently in London at Tottenham, one in Mexico and another spare, with Germany the current frontrunner to fill that. In Germany, there are an estimated 19million NFL fans to the UK’s 16m as well as a greater pool of playing talent.
An NFL office has been set up there and a bidding process is under way for potential hosts for an NFL game, which could come next season. “We’ll narrow the seven or eight interested cities down to about three,” said Gosper. “And it’s possible we can get a game there as early as next year but it’s a bit complex. But it will be no later than 2023.”
Shahid Khan’s hopes of relocating the Jacksonville Jaguars to Wembley Stadium fell through when his stadium purchase was thwarted. As for whether the Jags might make London their home, Gosper said: “Our job is should an owner be ready to relocate a team into this market then it is ready, there is an appropriate stadium, interested media and a growing interest in various channels and platforms.
“We are creating the environment that is ready if that decision comes but it is entirely their decision and not easy to extract from their communities.”
Talks of an imminent move, however appear unlikely although the London connection will continue. He added: “There’s no reason why the Jags won’t continue to play in London. That relationship is very important to the Jags, who’ve built a great fan base.”
For Gosper himself, rugby – as a former player – was always the first sporting love but a stint working in New York saw him enamoured by the NFL.
For now, his focus is on further growth in the UK and beyond. He said: “The UK is definitely seeing high growth numbers in TV audiences and fans, the business end of it is growing. But I definitely feel there’s more.”