By agreeing to play one home game per season at Wembley Stadium in London for four seasons beginning in 2013, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan is acknowledging the relative irrelevance of his recent purchase — and hoping to use the overseas trips to finally build an identity for the franchise.
“We want to create an identity — a bold, ambitious franchise that is aggressive and forward-thinking on the field and away from the field,” Khan told reporters this week at a press conference officially announcing the arrangement. “The key point is to sell Jacksonville to the world. We are a well-kept secret, but after today, that’s not going to be the case.”
The Jaguars will become the first NFL team to play multiple home games overseas. The NFL has played one game a year at Wembley since 2007. The St. Louis Rams were scheduled to host the game from 2012 through 2014, but backed out in favor of refocusing their efforts on improving their home stadium, the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams’ lease runs out after the 2014 season.
Like the Rams, the Jaguars have often been mentioned as a potential candidate to relocate to Los Angeles, which hasn’t had an NFL team since 1995. Khan, who purchased the team from original owner Wayne Weaver last December, told the Associated Press that Weaver didn’t want to play overseas because he had “moveophobia,” i.e. the concern that playing a home game in London would lead fans to believe the team was going to leave Jacksonville.
But Khan wasted no time in volunteering the Jaguars as the “host” team in London. “The NFL is going to be developing an international fan base,” Khan told The Associated Press in December. “Why shouldn’t it be the Jaguars? In all honesty, internationally, they don’t know the difference between the Jaguars and the Steelers.”
They do in America, though, where the Jaguars were ranked last among the NFL’s 32 teams in
In addition, the Jaguars are situated in one of the smallest markets in the NFL. But playing one game in London will expose the Jaguars to eight million people, nearly eight times the 1.3 million people that live in Jacksonville.
Playing one less home game in Jacksonville may also help lure new season ticket holders to EverBank Field. While the Jaguars haven’t blacked out a home game since 2009, they continue to cover up 10,000 seats with tarp in order to reduce the capacity to 67,000. The Jaguars first began using the tarp in 2005. However, with the Jaguars playing one fewer game in Jacksonville each season, the team will cut season ticket prices by about 10 percent.
The Jaguars’ ticketing efforts have also been hindered by the team’s recent on-field performance. The Jaguars joined the NFL as an expansion team in 1995, stunningly reached the AFC Championship Game in 1996 and won the AFC Central championship each of the next three seasons. But the Jaguars have reached the playoffs just twice in the last 12 years, a span in which they have won only one postseason game.
The Jaguars went 5-11 last year and are expected to struggle again this year. The team’s best player, running back and reigning NFL rushing champion Maurice Jones-Drew, has missed all of training camp due to a holdout and has yet to meet with the Jaguars’ new head coach, Mike Mularkey.