Jags' surging popularity in UK beneficial

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- As the record crowd at the rookie minicamp showed, there is certainly a buzz about the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Apparently it's not limited to North Florida's First Coast.

The Jaguars also have enjoyed a significant surge in international recognition. According to an NFL survey, the Jaguars rank ninth among NFL teams in popularity outside the United States. That's a huge jump from the previous year, when they ranked 31st.

"In a little over a year we've had that much visibility and improvement and I think it's very, very important for the Jaguars," owner Shad Khan said.

The NFL compiled the results by culling a database of several hundred thousand fans. Each fan that registers selects his or her favorite NFL team and the Jaguars were the team that gained more fans last year than any other in the United Kingdom.

The surge is obviously related to the fact the Jaguars played a game in London last season and will do so for the next three years, as well as how aggressively the Jaguars have marketed their brand in the UK. The NFL has granted the team extended territorial rights in the UK to allow them to take advantage of their four-year presence overseas.

The result is that no other team had a surge in popularity as big as the Jaguars' move of 22 spots, said Chris Parsons, the vice president of NFL International. Parsons said New England was No. 1. Darlene Caprio, the NFL's senior manager of media relations and international communications, said the league will not release the complete list.

"Either new people coming into the database or the database itself has a lot more people [listed as] fans of the Jaguars," Parsons said. "It's certainly representative of the fact that the Jaguars have done a tremendous amount of work in the market to build their fans and their reputation. As new fans come into the game why not follow a team that's done that work and is playing a game there for four years?"

The Jaguars have two full-time employees in the UK and send cheerleaders, mascot Jaxson de Ville, and players on numerous trips to London throughout the offseason. The Jaguars' fan club in the UK -- Union Jax -- has more than 23,000 members and the impact that those and other fans in the UK have had on the team's bottom line is significant, Jaguars president Mark Lamping said.

The team's local ticket revenue was down 18 percent in 2013 from the previous season but adding in the London ticket revenue brought it back up to the same level. The Jaguars' domestic sponsorship revenue rose 14 percent in 2013 but that number swells to 29 percent when the London sponsorship money is added.

Overall, London accounts for 15 percent of the franchise's local revenue, Lamping said. The London game counts as local revenue since it's technically a home game for the Jaguars.

"They're certainly involved in an entrepreneurial approach to what they're doing in the UK and I think that definitely has been a great advocate for the NFL," Parsons said. "They've invested both with people and dollars to build their brand in the market."

The NFL is certainly trying to take advantage of the game's popularity in the UK. The league has added a third game in London in 2014 and the possibility of a fourth game being added in 2015 has been discussed. It's not hard to see why: All three of the 2014 games at Wembley Stadium have already sold out.

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank recently told The MMQB's Peter King that the NFL is headed toward having a permanent franchise in London and eventually other franchises throughout Europe. He didn't name a timetable but said it would be "less than you think."

The Jaguars, because of their presence in London, their four-year commitment to playing a home game at Wembley, and the fact that Khan also purchased the English Premier League's Fulham FC, automatically leap to most people's minds when the subject of a permanent franchise overseas arises. That would be erroneous, Parsons said.

"There's no reason for fans to draw that conclusion," he said. "There really isn't. What we're doing in the UK at the moment is building a foundation. It's growing every year. We're pleased with our progress. I know there's talk out there of will a team go there, but those two things are very much separate entities. I think, as I said, there's no reason to make that direct connection."

As for the Jaguars' future in London, Khan said there haven't been any talks on extending their agreement to play a home game there beyond the 2016 season. However, he didn't rule out a possible long-term commitment for an annual game there, either.

"Right now going to London for us is a game a year for four years. That's what it is," Khan said. "This is something that obviously the league is deciding. I think it's very good for us. I think it's good for the league to have us. It's a privilege for us, but right now that's all our commitment."

For now, he's just happy to be No. 9.