Why do the Jaguars play in London every year?

When the Jacksonville Jaguars play the Baltimore Ravens in Week 3, it will be the fifth consecutive season that features a Jaguars home game at Wembley Stadium in London.

It’s not the only team that plays in the United Kingdom — there will be three more games in London in the remainder of the 2017 season. The Rams and Dolphins are also repeat hosts overseas and will play home games abroad in October, but the Jaguars are the only ones with a guaranteed game in London on an annual basis.

The Jaguars will play a game in Wembley Stadium in each of the next three seasons, too.

Why do the Jaguars always play in London? The Jaguars first announced a partnership in 2012 — Shahid Khan’s first year as team owner — that would mean a home game in London in each of the next four seasons. Happy with the first three years of the deal, Khan later extended it through the 2020 season.

“This is great news for the Jaguars and the stability of the team in Jacksonville, which has come to embrace London as our home away from home,” Khan said in 2015 when the extension was announced.

While other teams have played multiple games outside the United States — including the Raiders, who will host a game in Mexico City for the second consecutive season — it’s a partnership unique to the Jaguars.

Why would the Jaguars want to play home games elsewhere? For about a decade, Jacksonville has been the poster child of poor attendance at games. It mostly stems from a disastrous 2009 season that featured seven blacked out games and an average of 49,651 fans at EverBank Field.

But it’s also not entirely warranted. Even during that 2009 season, the Lions and Raiders had worse attendance numbers. The Jaguars haven’t finished in the bottom three in attendance since and have been able to remove tarps that covered seats after construction brought the stadium down to market size.

Still, attendance has been a challenge for the team — not helped at all by nine consecutive losing seasons — and sending a game to London decreases the cost of season tickets and makes EverBank Field easier to fill.

There’s also the added bonus that the partnership in London allows Jacksonville to market its brand internationally and sell commercially in the United Kingdom. That’s something no other NFL team has and a valuable asset to a franchise that is consistently polled as last in popularity.

Are the Jaguars going to relocate to London? Many have suggested that the Jaguars could eventually relocate and make the United Kingdom more than just a home away from home.

However, there are obstacles that stand in the way and make any such move a highly unlikely one:

  1. Travel would be a nightmare. The NFL is already sympathetic to teams traveling to London and typically pair the trip with a bye week. Housing a team there permanently would presumably mean asking players on that roster to make trips to the United States eight times for games.
  2. Games in London have a novelty factor. Fans fill the stadium wearing an assortment of NFL jerseys and don’t particularly side with either squad. The league would ask a largely nonpartisan crowd to then buy season tickets and support a franchise as its own. Whether they would is a question that’s difficult to answer.
  3. There could be legal issues with an international team. The NFL skirts antitrust laws with things like the draft, but a franchise permanently located overseas could present new labor issues. It will also likely have to be discussed and placed in the collective bargaining agreement, which is already a contentious and difficult negotiation as is.
  4. EverBank Field is difficult to leave. Not only are the Jaguars in a lease with Jacksonville through 2030, the team has recently poured money into its two-decade old stadium complete with swimming pools and gigantic scoreboards. That’s a lot of investment to just leave behind.

Ultimately, the Jaguars are happy with their home in Jacksonville and aren’t likely to move any time soon. But London has been a good once-per-year destination for the team and they’ll be back for three more years after the 2017 matchup against the Ravens.