LONDON — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says the NFL’s overseas success doesn’t mean the Super Bowl is crossing the Atlantic or that the league is going back to continental Europe.
Goodell said the expansion from two to three NFL regular season games starting next season has the league exploring how to continue growing its International Series brand. More games could come to London, which will need a franchise before it can even dream of hosting the Super Bowl. And that is some time away.
“We don’t have a timetable for (a London franchise). We want to continue building interest, and if it continues to go well we believe a franchise could be here. The Super Bowl won’t be played anywhere where we don’t have a franchise,” Goodell said on Saturday.
“Right now, our focus is on the U.K. since the European fans can get here. We want to build on our success here, and whether it leads to a permanent franchise or not, then we can see. What happens here will dictate that.”
The NFL created a European league in the 1990’s that had teams based in in the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain, before it folded in 2007.
Goodell said demand from NFL teams to play in London was more than it could handle, and that a game could be held in Sunday prime-time hours next year. Monday and Thursday night games in London have been ruled out, as has holding preseason games or the Pro Bowl overseas.
Goodell applauded the Jacksonville Jaguars for embracing the International Series, with the Florida-based team signed up to play four regular season “home” games at Wembley Stadium over four years. The first is on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
“Jacksonville is an interesting experiment. I think fans there see that it’s good for their community, that it’s putting Jacksonville on a global stage,” Goodell said while addressing some Jaguars fans complaints about losing one home game over these four seasons. “Whenever there is going to be change, there is going to be resistance to change.”
Goodell met with a selection of NFL fans alongside 49ers great Joe Montana and former Jaguars offensive lineman Tony Boselli on Saturday.
The enthusiasm of overseas NFL fans was palpable inside the Grand Ballroom of the Landmark Hotel, with a scattering of NFL team jerseys in the audience featuring names such as Brady, Kaepernick, Bettis and even Tebow.
So while local fans are enjoying the experiment, they are not expecting a London-based franchise to arrive any time soon.
“It’s a minority sport here, you don’t see people out in the park throwing an American football around. It’s all about this spectacle. I won’t wear this jersey unless there’s an event on,” said 42-year-old Jonathan Gardner, clad in his orange Denver Broncos jersey featuring John Elway’s No. 7.
While Gardner was beaming at being in a room surrounded by so many fellow football fans and the presence of Montana, he was weary that the future would feature anything beyond regular season visits.
“I don’t see a franchise coming here,” said Gardner, who played amateur football in his native Belfast as a teenager. “Football still has to overcome a load of prejudices here, many people think they aren’t real athletes and compare them to rugby players, who are just as physical but don’t need pads.”
Goodell fielded questions about the Washington Redskins name controversy (“we have to listen to people with a different viewpoint and we are doing that”); the idea of women being involved in the NFL (“there will be a woman official on the field in the next year or so”); and the prospects of a Los Angeles franchise (“we’ve got to it right, we’re not going to go back there until it’s ready”).
But it was Montana who won fans over when asked what he would do if appointed NFL commissioner for a day.
“I’d put a franchise over here,” Montana said.