January 25, 2010: Even as the NFL anguishes over what to do with its Pro Bowl format, the league has nixed the addition of a second International Series game in 2010, citing economics and the looming CBA situation as the main reasons. Although the NFL did reinforce its quest to expand the league overseas, that timetable now falls under the category of later, rather than sooner.
As recently as last week the NFL said it was "continuing to explore the possibility of playing a second game in the UK in 2010," and even had been considering as many as four games per season within the next few years. But the league has now put that plan on indefinite hold.
“Playing one game in the UK is a significant investment,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “Playing a second game is an even bigger investment. As we considered this, the uncertainty related to the ongoing CBA discussions linked to the current global economic climate were critical factors in our decision not to play a second game in the UK." Talks between league owners and the NFL Players Assn. currently are stalled in their efforts to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement that would take effect when the current CBA expires at the end of the 2010 season.
The decision came less than two weeks after the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers were unveiled as the participants for the 2010 International Series game scheduled for Oct. 31 at London’s Wembley Stadium. Pepsi Max, which took over title sponsorship of the International Series last year from Bridgestone, is expected to remain as title sponsor under a multi-year deal signed in 2009.
The NFL has been ramping up its presence in the UK over the past few years, including expanding its London office to a year-round operation, attracting more marketing partners, boosting its presence on TV and making its NFLUK.com Web site more attractive to both dedicated and casual fans. Marketing partners that activated behind the 2009 International Series game included title sponsor Pepsi Max, Nike, Reebok, Coors Light, Canon, GM/Chevrolet and Marriott.
NFLUK did not add any statement to those released by the NFL and chose not to "speculate about what might happen in future years."
However, during a recent interview, Alistair Kirkwood, director for NFLUK, told NYSportsJournalism.com, "There obviously has been a big demand for the games up until now, and they sell very quickly. Therefore there are more people who want tickets than can get them. You can still make the International Series special right now with two games a year. You can make them both stand out and be special. . . . But I turn it around the other way: How do you make sure that it doesn't come across as a novelty, as an event that just comes into town and leaves? We have to make the International Series more prevalent and do more things to support it."
Even with a second UK game on hold, the league plans to succeed in territory where it previously found rough going, including several failed attempts between 1991-2007 to establish European-based American football leagues.
"For the past three years we have seen the extraordinary passion that exists for NFL football in the UK," said Goodell. "We want to continue to build on that passion by strengthening our ties to our existing UK fans and creating new ones. Our ambition to bring a second game to the UK is as strong as ever. Once the current uncertainty is resolved, we will be in a strong position to bring multiple games to our UK fan base.”
San Francisco will be participating in its second regular-season game on foreign soil, having played the Arizona Cardinals in Mexico City in 2005 in what was the first international regular-season game in NFL history. That game drew 103,467 to Azteca Stadium. The league did not play an international regular season game in 2006, but returned to the format in October 2007 and moved it to London's Wembley Stadium when the New York Giants beat the Miami Dolphins, 13-10, in front of 81,176 people in what was the Bridgestone International Series.
In October 2008, the New Orleans Saints beat the San Diego Chargers, 37-32, in with 83,226 at Wembley Stadium. In October 2009, the New England Patriots beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35-7, before 84,254 in the renamed Pepsi Max International Series.
The NFL's changing international scenario comes as the league is monitoring its decision to move the annual Pro Bowl. This year, the game was shifted from Hawaii the week after the Super Bowl, a format that had been in place since 1980, to the week before the Super Bowl in Miami, where Super Bowl XLIV will be played. It will be shown on ESPN on Jan. 31.
Numerous key players have dropped out due to injury or other personal reasons, including quarterbacks Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers. A dozen players were taken off the roster when the Indianapolis Colts and Saints, which each had placed six players on the Pro Bowl roster, won the AFC and NFC championship games, respectively, and reached Super Bow XLIV. Among them are Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne and Dwight Freeney from the Colts and Drew Brees from the Saints. The Pro Bowl already is scheduled to return to Hawaii the week after the Super Bowls in 2011 and 2012.
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