The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are getting the royal treatment from the NFL once again.
On Monday, the NFL announced that the Buccaneers would play a regular season game at London's Wembley Stadium for the second time in three years. Tampa Bay will play host to the Chicago Bears in the latest installation of the league's "International Series" on Sunday, October 23.
The game's local kickoff time of 6:00 p.m. corresponds to 1:00 p.m. US Eastern Time. It will be televised in the United States by FOX.
The Bucs-Bears pairing has been rumored for roughly a week, but the NFL only officially announced the news on Monday, one day before it is expected to release the entire 2011 regular-season schedule. The league has staged one game in England each year since 2007, marking four of the five regular-season games ever played outside of the United States. The only other regular-season game not contested on U.S. soil was a 2005 Arizona Cardinals-San Francisco 49ers matchup in Mexico City in 2005, with Arizona as the host team.
The Buccaneers took on the New England Patriots in the 2009 London game, sending them overseas for just the second time in franchise history. Tampa Bay also played a preseason game against the New York Jets in Tokyo in 2003.
As the NFL seeks to continue expanding its appeal in Europe and other continents, it has made the Buccaneers one of its most prominent ambassadors. Tampa Bay will become the first team to play two regular-season games in London, and the first to serve as the host for an International Series game more than once. This year's game also marks the first one played in London that is not an interconference matchup, as both the Bucs and Bears are members of the NFC.
"We are honored to be selected to participate in the NFL International Series for a second time," said Buccaneers Co-Chairman Bryan Glazer. "We are looking forward to promoting Tampa Bay's emerging young team on the world stage.
"We have the longest running fan club of any NFL team in the UK and look forward to seeing so many familiar faces from the Bucs UK Fan club at the game."
Previous London matchups (host team listed first) included the Miami Dolphins versus the New York Giants in 2007; the New Orleans Saints versus the San Diego Chargers in 2008; the Bucs and Patriots in 2009; and the San Francisco 49ers versus the Denver Broncos last fall.
The annual NFL game has proved extremely popular in the United Kingdom, playing to packed houses at one of the world's most recognizable sports venues. The Buccaneers' 2009 game against the Patriots featured a crowd of more than 84,000, and tickets to each of the previous International Series games have been a hot commodity.
"Our past four games in London have demonstrated the tremendous passion for NFL football that exists in the UK," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "We hope by staging another extraordinary game at Wembley that we can continue to grow our existing fan base and attract even more new fans."
The Buccaneers, in particular, have a strong following in England. The London-based fan club known as Bucs UK has more than 300 avid members, many of whom had the opportunity to interact with prominent Buccaneer alumni during the team's 2009 visit, and has been in operation since 1984. Paul Stewart of Bucs' UK called the NFL's announcement, "amazing news." Stewart's amazingly comprehensive web site, Bucpower.com, has received more than 4.3 million hits since it was launched in 2002.
"Having been fortunate enough to see their heroes up close in 2009 against the New England Patriots, Christmas has come early with this repeat performance in 2011," said Stewart, whose club was the subject of a documentary shot by NFL Films during the Buccaneers' previous visit.
The NFL is also treating UK fans to perhaps the most exciting matchup in the history of the International Series. The Buccaneers were the NFL's surprising success story of 2010, improving by an incredible seven wins to a 10-6 record despite fielding the youngest roster in the NFL. Tampa Bay only missed the playoffs on a fifth-stage tiebreaker against the eventual Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers, who made it in as a Wild Card behind the NFC North division-winning Bears. Chicago, which compiled an 11-5 regular-season record, lost the NFC Championship game to Green Bay.
This marks the first time that both participants in an International Series game had 10 or more wins the previous season. The only previous game in the series that featured two clubs coming off winning records was the 2009 matchup of the Buccaneers and Patriots.
The London series has also had a strong history of teams that went on to success that same season, as last year's San Francisco-Denver matchup marked the first time that neither participant made the playoffs. In 2007, the Giants defeated the Dolphins in London, 13-10, en route to the postseason and, eventually, a victory over the previously-undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. In 2008, the Chargers lost to the Saints at Wembley Stadium, 37-32, but went on to win the AFC West. In 2009, the Patriots followed their 35-7 victory over the Buccaneers with an AFC East title.
For the Buccaneers, the 2009 London game marked the regular-season debut of quarterback Josh Freeman, who relieved Josh Johnson late in the matchup and threw his first four passes, completing two of them for 16 yards. Freeman would make his first NFL start in the Buccaneers' following game, a 38-28 upset of the playoff-bound Packers, and has since opened 25 straight contests, winning 13 of them.
The Bucs-Bears game in London will count as one of Tampa Bay's 10 home games in 2011, and season ticket-holders will thus only be charged for a nine-game schedule. Any Buccaneers season ticket account who has paid-in-full will be refunded for the amount paid toward that game. Depending on the original payment method, such refunds will come in the form of a check for accounts paid by check or cash, and in the form of a refund to the credit card that made the payment for credit card charges. Any accounts currently using payment plans will have remaining payments adjusted to reflect the cost of nine games instead of 10.