NFL Wembley venture is a success

PARTY TIME: San Francisco 49ers' quarterback Colin Kaepernick celebrates with team-mate Vernon Davis after scoring his second touchdown

PARTY TIME: San Francisco 49ers' quarterback Colin Kaepernick celebrates with team-mate Vernon Davis after scoring his second touchdown

First published in Sport

THE Jacksonville Jaguars may not have given British fans the best advert for what a real London team might one day look like but NFL bosses are chalking up another success after Sunday night’s match-up at Wembley.

Jacksonville, playing out the first of the four games they have committed to in London each season until 2016, allowed four touchdowns in the opening 23 minutes en route to a 42-10 blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

But while their ongoing woes – the Jaguars are now 0- 8 this season – meant fans did not get to see much of a competitive game on the field, NFL UK managing director Alistair Kirkwood claimed only positive signs at Wembley.

‘‘The night went really well from our perspective,’’ he said. ‘‘We’ve had a crowd of just under 84,000 and even though it wasn’t the best game we’ve had, another way of looking at it is that we’ve got a blow-out and the fans have stayed pretty much to the end.

‘‘I think it was 100 per cent full until the final two or three minutes of the game, and I don’t even think you’d see that in the States in a similar game. It just shows that our fans have come to savour and enjoy every minute they can get with these NFL stars.’’ A hefty proportion of those fans had come decked out in San Francisco jerseys, and the crowd seemed more in favour of the 49ers even with Jacksonville the ‘home’ team.

The Jaguars – suggested by many to be prime contenders for a future move given their often poor attendances in Florida and the London links of Jaguars and Fulham owners Shahid Khan – are likely to be outnumbered again when they return next year to face another of the game’s bestknown teams, the Dallas Cowboys, but Kirkwood is confident the experiment of having a resident team can work in winning over fans.

‘‘Maybe in the stands you won’t see as many jerseys because the 49ers are one of the best supported teams, but a lot of fans we spoke to who were maybe turning up in someone else’s jersey, they all said they were getting behind the Jaguars,’’ he said.

‘‘Of course we don’t expect anybody to become a fan overnight and it’s not about converting a lot of fans for the Jaguars.

“But we think they will become a lot of people’s second favourite team.’’ Having a particular team return again and again in order to build a relationship with London fans is just part of a process in which the NFL continues to test the waters towards possibly placing a franchise here permanently.

Measuring the feasibility of such a move goes far beyond what happens on the occasional night at Wembley, however, with the games credited for a much bigger knock-on effect in promoting the game.

‘‘The TV deals and our exposure are what is interesting to me,’’ Kirkwood said.

‘‘Our ratings are up 35 per cent year on year. Our focus is not just on the games themselves but one making sure they do good things for us beyond game day.’’

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