In October, the Jacksonville Jaguars will make NFL history.
The team will become the first to play two games outside the US in the same season, when, as part of the NFL International Series, Jacksonville head to London to face the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium on October 1, then take on the Buffalo Bills at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium a week later on October 8.
— Decyfr Sport (@DecyfrSport) May 10, 2023
But, as the Jaguars are London’s de-facto home team, the news wasn’t completely unexpected.
“When it was announced that the Jags were playing back-to-back games [in London] in 2023, yes it was significant, but no one fell off their seat with surprise,” said Sky Sports’ Neil Reynolds in the latest episode of the Decyfr Handoff podcast, where he sat down with the Jaguars’ VP of UK Operations, Maria Gigante, to discuss the historic announcement.
The Jaguars played their first regular season game in London in 2013, where they were defeated by the San Francisco 49ers at Wembley. Since then, Jacksonville have played a part in the NFL London Games every year except 2020 – with highlights including a 44-7 win over the Baltimore Ravens in 2017, and a dramatic 23-20 victory over the Miami Dolphins in 2021 thanks to a last-gasp field goal.
In 2015, the NFL reached an agreement to play at least two games a year at Wembley through the 2020 season, with Jacksonville, who already had a deal in place to play at the stadium through 2016, playing in at least one of those games each year. In fact, the Jaguars’ affection for the national stadium grew so much, that in 2018, the team’s owner Shahid Khan attempted to buy Wembley for £600 million.
Year after year, and season after season, the Jaguars grew their fanbase on this side of the pond, but not just because they consistently play games in the capital city.
The team started ‘JagTag’, a grassroots initiative to encourage children to play a slightly different type of touch American football, and ran the ‘JagTag Xtra Time’ program until 2022 – which aimed to improve British American football players’ skills with weekly training sessions and elite level workouts.
“We have over 87,000 kids playing [JagTag] across the country,” said Maria Gigante, Jacksonville’s VP of UK Operations.
“Those are huge numbers for one team and one program.
“It’s been a labour of love, starting back in 2016 through the Fulham Foundation and growing the program year on year – and now [we have] our own Jaguars charitable foundation that we run all our grassroots programs underneath.”
The NFL’s Global Markets Program, which allows Jacksonville (along with five other franchises) the chance to grow a fanbase in the UK, affords the Jaguars the opportunity to stage fan activation events – and truly connect the fans with the players. This summer, Jacksonville are again travelling around the country to meet with fans on a tour that features ever-popular fifth-year linebacker, Josh Allen.
“It’s important for us to take the helmets off the players and make them personable, and for our fans to get to know them,” said Gigante.
“[The players] have a real interest in why we do this, why it’s important to the club [and] why the small engagement and grassroots programs are important.”
🗣️ “It’s important for us to take the helmets off”
— Decyfr Sport (@DecyfrSport) May 31, 2023
Plus, it’s not just Allen the Jaguars have to market now. In quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the franchise has a true generational talent leading the team, and one that UK fans have the opportunity to watch each year – although rumours suggest they could be watching Lawrence much more than once a season.
In October last year, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke about the possibility of London not just having its own franchise, but Europe gaining its own division. And if a team were to relocate to London, there seems to be only one realistic candidate.
“I think it would be the Jacksonville Jaguars,” said Reynolds on an earlier episode of the Decyfr Handoff in December.
“I think it’s going to be a relocation and the Jags are quite invested already – I could watch Trevor Lawrence eight times a year!”
From one game a year to an unprecedented two in the same season, the Jacksonville Jaguars have found a home away from home in Wembley Stadium – and in London. With Trevor Lawrence as the face of the franchise, the city’s love for the team shows no signs of fading, and the feeling appears to be mutual.
So it just remains to be seen exactly where the Jaguars’ affection for London will finally take them.
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