Jaguars hope to cash in on UK presence

This week’s news that the Jacksonville Jaguars will be the home team during games played in London from 2013-16 came with a bit of news that didn’t grab headlines -- but it’s important to the long-term stability of the franchise.

The NFL has given the Jaguars extended territorial rights in London by allowing the team to market its brand and sell commercially there. In the past, teams playing in England have had only had game-day activation rights.

Typically, U.S. sports leagues control overseas rights and grant very little to teams playing games in foreign countries. Not so in this case.

“The fundamental aspect of this is that we wanted to have the team that was going to be able to spend some extended period of time in the U.K. to be able to build a fan base for the NFL and also to grow the Jacksonville community and Jaguars brand,” said Chris Parsons, NFL vice president of international. “The way the deal works is that they do get some incremental rights to that market, which historically teams that have gone over there have not been able to access. It’ll allow them to build partnerships.”

While the four-year plan to play in London sounds like a long time to Jacksonville fans, who will lose a home game in each of those seasons, it may not be enough time for the Jaguars to solidify their place in London, even with the additional marketing rights.

“I don’t know if an individual team is going to see that much of a spike unless they play year after year after year,” said Lou Imbriano, former chief marketing officer for the New England Patriots.

How long might it take?

“I want to say a decade, but that may be too long,” he said. “It’s probably five to 10 years, though.”

Whitney Wagoner, a senior instructor of sports business at the University of Oregon who spent seven years in marketing at the NFL, thinks it’ll be at least three years before the Jaguars start seeing any returns.

“You might be able to say you sold 20,000 jerseys, but I think it’s dangerous to look at short-term pickups on really surface-level-type metrics. What you’re talking about is building that relationship and building a connection between people and the brand, and that’s a multiyear process to be sure.”

Imbriano and Wagoner worry the Jaguars are starting at a disadvantage given their play in recent seasons.

“If you’re bringing in a sport that’s not a core sport to the area and you’re bringing in a particular team brand that’s clearly not one of the strongest team brands in that foreign league,” Wagoner said, “I’d have to imagine success and a tradition of success would be an important variable for that team to mean something in an overseas market.”

Imbriano agrees.

“Just because you’re there and saying, ‘Here we are,’ doesn’t mean fans will jump all over the team. European fans are very into winning. They’re into teams who bring in championships. Unless they’re invested simply because of location, they might migrate over to teams who win.”

Although the Jaguars obviously hope to build the team’s fan base by playing four games in London, owner Shahid Khan has sold the city of Jacksonville on the hope that moving one home game a season to London will open doors to promote Jacksonville as an international business destination. Last Thursday, Khan kicked things off by hosting a reception in London where he invited business executives from London companies with offices in Jacksonville and also leaders from Jacksonville companies with offices in London.

Wagoner thinks the Jaguars might also have some success securing corporate partnerships with London-based companies.

“Having a commercial relationship with the Jaguars in the U.K., one could argue, is one step away from an association with the NFL, and that is compelling,” said Wagoner, noting a partnership with the Jaguars would likely be far more economical than one with the league.

“An argument can be made that an association with this club is close to an association with the No. 1 sport in the U.S.”

It open be open-marketing season for the Jaguars, though. The league already has relationships with British companies, and the Jaguars will not be able to partner with any businesses that compete with those partners. The team will also need to work closely with the league and have any marketing and promotional plans reviewed.

Not to worry, Parsons said.

“The league has a framework in the U.K. that allows us to access all sorts of marketing opportunities. Some cost money, some do not. We’ll partner together to promote the Jaguars in the market.”