It’s been a tough three-day stretch for Tampa football fans. On Sunday, they saw their team get pummeled 48-3 in San Francisco. And on Tuesday, their city lost its bid to host Super Bowl XLIX.
But the worst development might have taken place later on Tuesday, when the NFL broke from its owners meetings in Houston with the announcement that its international endeavor in the United Kingdom has been extended through 2016, with the likelihood that additional games will be played in London annually.
On the surface, that wouldn’t appear to affect the Bucs more than any other team. But no team has been connected to England as much as they have. The team shares an owner with Manchester United and in Week 7 it’ll become the first franchise to host two London games in the six-year life of the series. It’ll be the second time in three years that the Bucs have been the designated home team at Wembley Stadium.
The league announced specifically that teams will now have the ability to volunteer to play “at least” one home game per year in London, adding that the new format “enables the league to determine the appropriate number of U.K. games per season, based on the popularity of the sport in the market and the number of teams that volunteer to play as a home team.”
But few teams are reasonably expected to willingly volunteer to sacrifice domestic home games for the sake of gaining more eyeballs in a foreign environment. All but a handful of NFL teams reach 90 percent capacity every year, so it wouldn’t be fair for the majority of franchises to ditch their fan bases for 12.5 percent of a season.
“We would have interest as the visiting team,” said Texans owner Bob McNair, via the Houston Chronicle. “It would be difficult for us as the home team. Our fans want to see us at home. They’ve been very supportive, and I’d be reluctant to do that.”
And the league clearly wants to find a team that will happily make an annual trip to London.
“When the initial resolution was approved in 2006, the thinking at the time was that we would have two new teams every year,” said NFL Vice President of International Chris Parsons in a press release issued by the league Tuesday. “As the series evolved, we felt as though having a team return to the U.K. on a regular basis would certainly increase the fan base for that particular team, which in turn would drive fan growth for the entire league. We think there is a tremendous benefit for a team to return to the U.K. on an annual basis.”
Teams that don’t exactly dominate in the attendance category: Buffalo, Cleveland, Kansas City, St. Louis, Detroit, Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay. The Bills are already having an affair with Toronto and the Raiders wouldn’t be a good candidate due to their geographic location. Jacksonville, St. Louis and Cleveland make some sense, especially when you consider that the Browns also share an owner with an English Premier League team, but none of those teams have participated in the International Series thus far.
To boot, the Buccaneers failed to sell out 10 consecutive games before finally breaking the blackout streak on Monday Night Football in Week 4. Fan support continues to suffer despite an enhanced on-field product, and they’ve already got themselves a fan club in the U.K.
Without saying it publicly, the league is clearly hoping that the Buccaneers begin to establish themselves as London’s team.