Competitive consequences? The Giants certainly weren't slowed down by their game in London
The National Football League will return to London next fall. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, though, will have to wait their turn for a trip across the pond.
In creating a matchup to follow the hugely successful New York Giants-Miami Dolphins game in London this past fall, the NFL seriously considered four teams: Tampa Bay, New Orleans, San Diego and Seattle. Last week, during the run-up to Super Bowl XLII, the league announced it's choice: the Saints and Chargers will be the next teams to do battle overseas.
The NFL is moving slowly and deliberately in its foray into staging regular-season games out of the country; as such, the pool of teams from which the league chooses is still made up of volunteers. Obviously, then, Tampa Bay's management was happy to be in the running for the 2008 game. It was not, however, upset by the final choice. You see, the Bucs get a pretty good consolation prize for staying in the States: 65,000 rabid fans packed into Raymond James Stadium.
Had Tampa Bay been sent to London, the contest probably would have replaced one of the Bucs' eight regular-season home games next fall. The league wasn't likely to choose an intra-divisional matchup for the game (Bucs-Saints), which leaves the Chargers and Seahawks as possible opponents. Both of those teams come to Tampa in '08.
So, as General Manager Bruce Allen says, the team is hardly disappointed to be playing another game in front of the home crowd.
"No, I love our stadium," said Allen. "I love our fans. We'll [play overseas] eventually, as will everybody in the league."
Allen's view is an indication that the league is pleased with its early experiences in this endeavor – which also include a 2005 regular-season game between Arizona and San Francisco in 2005 – and expects it to continue. Last year's game in London was seen as a tremendous success.
"The reception that we got by our business partners and by our fans in the U.K. was extraordinary," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, speaking at his Super Bowl press conference last week. "We could not be happier with the experience we had in London, and we're grateful with everything they did. So grateful, that we are going to come back."
Goodell also said the league took great pains to make sure the trip didn't lead to any competitive consequences for the teams involved. It certainly didn't slow down the Giants, who just won Super Bowl XLII in an upset of the previously-undefeated New England Patriots. The Giants and Dolphins must have spoke positively about the trip to their NFL peers because, according to Goodell, there was an "overwhelming response" from volunteering teams for the 2008 game.
"We have great expectations for the game and for the event," said Goodell. "We think it will be both great for the U.K. fans, but also I think, it will be terrific for the people of New Orleans, Louisiana and also for the people of San Diego and Southern California. This is a great opportunity to go on an international platform and promote the great things happening in their city. I think that will be a tremendous opportunity."
The Buccaneers, who will also be at the center of the sporting world's attention a year from now when Super Bowl XLIII comes to Tampa, may get that same international opportunity in 2009 or 2010, should they choose to volunteer again. When asked if overseas games might at some point become compulsory, Goodell said that decision would come well down the road.
"It's difficult to tell the future beyond the next several years," said the commissioner. "The reality is the teams had a great experience when they went to London. That's part of why we're doing this on a voluntary basis because we'll demonstrate to clubs that it can be a great experience for them."
And though the NFL is making it two seasons in a row in London's Wembley Stadium, the destination could be different by 2009. The league could even return to Mexico City, where it had another positive experience.
"Well as you know, our experience down there in 2005 was one of the things that changed our entire strategy of playing regular season games internationally," said Goodell. "And we started with Mexico for a very good reason. One, we think that there is tremendous fan interest in Mexico and this was something we wanted to do for those fans and I believe that success has led to our new strategy internationally. We would love to be back in Mexico. We will look at that for the 2009 season and we hope that we will be able to do that."