NFL teams use new rights to jockey for fans, revenue in UK

Supporters of the the The Minnesota Vikings team cheer at a fan interaction event at The Brotherhood Of Pursuits And Pastimes sports bar in Manchester, England, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. A half-dozen NFL teams are aggressively targeting fans in Britain now that they have new marketing rights in the country. They’re signing commercial deals and hiring local media personalities in bids to expand their fanbases and tap international revenue. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

LONDON — The “J-E-T-S” chants gave way to British-accented berating of quarterback Joe Flacco at the London sports pub where fans watched the Cincinnati Bengals ease to victory last week.

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


“Hopefully we continue to see this grow with teams making their presence well-known in the U.K.,” he said Sunday. “It’s great for us fans.”

A half-dozen teams are aggressively targeting those fans after the NFL divvied up marketing rights in Britain. They’re signing commercial deals and hiring local media personalities in bids to expand their fanbases and tap international revenue.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are Britain’s unofficial home team — and are intent on preserving that status — but now they’re facing competition.

The San Francisco 49ers signed an agreement with radio station TalkSport to broadcast games. The Jets struck a deal with U.K. men’s clothing brand Charles Tyrwhitt.

They’re not just focused on London, either. The Chicago Bears held youth clinics in eight cities — including in 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’s a lot of upside. This is just the beginning,” said Martin Nance, Vikings executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

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

“There are other teams in the marketplace, but it’s clear that we are doing more, we are investing more … both from a people standpoint and a monetary investment,” said Chad Johnson, the Jags’ chief operating officer. “Just because they have the rights in the market, doesn’t mean they’ve committed to play football games here … to multiple football games here.”

The jockeying has intensified in the buildup to three London games in October. It’s all a result of the NFL launching its international “home marketing area” program. Eighteen teams were awarded the rights — in various countries, eight in total — on five-year deals during which teams can sell sponsorships and merchandise, build their “global brands” and attract new fans.

The seven other countries are Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Mexico and Spain. Some teams have rights in more than one country, like the Miami Dolphins with Brazil, Spain and the U.K. International expansion was one reason why the NFL added a 17th game to the schedule.

“These are under-tapped markets for us,” said Alex Chang, chief marketing officer for the 49ers, who hold rights in the U.K. and Mexico. “Now that we have rights there, we can do so much more with it. We can grow that fanbase a lot more proactively. It’s really pure upside here, but we have to invest in order to get to that upside.”

Teams didn’t disclose budgets or revenue projections, but Chang said the team has made a “sizeable investment” in the initiative.

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

“In this (five-year) period, we’ll look to play in the U.K. as well,” Chang said.

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

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