The NFL sees Canada, and sees gold. This is why the Buffalo Bills are making a yearly visit, and once a year every year we have to ponder the same questions about the Bills’ future in Buffalo, and the odds of an NFL team coming to Toronto.
The NFL sees England, and sees gold. This is why Sunday the Buccaneers and Bears will face off in a game that will mark the fifth time American football has been played in a foreign, overseas land where futebol is firmly embedded in the country’s culture and heritage. It’s also why the league will keep going back until at least 2016, possibly twice a year.
There’s a logical conclusion here: the NFL wants a team in Europe. The other logical conclusion is that team will be the Bucs, the same franchise that’s linked through its ownership to Manchester United, the fabled English Premier League club, and the same team that after Sunday will have participated in three of the five games at Wembley Stadium.
Bucs general manager Mark Dominick doesn’t have too much say in the matter, but surely he’ll tell Tampa Bay football fans what they want to hear anyway, right?
Why yes, he’d be happy to do that. Dominick spoke to reporters Friday during a team workout, and said there will never be a team called the London Buccaneers.
“This team is never going to relocate from Tampa and go to London. We’re the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I know there’s been some rumblings on ProFootballTalk and anywhere else saying we may relocate, but we’re very happy to be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and we will be going forward.”
Fair enough. But what about the notion of being London’s Bills, a team that becomes the home team after being designated to participate every year in the London game?
Dominick wasn’t as firm on that matter.
“As an organization, if (the league) gets to the point where they talk about putting a team here for one game per season on a consistent basis, at that point it will be a matter for discussion.
“But right now I’ve never heard a conversation (about that). I’ve certainly never had a conversation with ownership about that being us, so I think right now it’s still speculation.”
Dominick also said that while there will always be concerns about the travel time and time zone-jumping required for a trip to London, the trip across the pond is only an hour-and-a-half longer than a west coast trip.
Of course the main motivation to become London’s team is revenue, or a lack thereof in Tampa. Of the last dozen Bucs home games 11 of them have been blacked out on local TV. Games are blacked out if there still isn’t a sellout 72 hours before kickoff.
The Tampa football fan base is passionate, but the American economy–and especially the Florida economy–may be holding back that family of four from painting their faces in Bucs colors and paying for tickets, parking, and several rounds of peanuts for little Jimmy. At the three Bucs home games so far this year there’s been an average of over 11,000 empty seats at Raymond James Stadium.
Attendance Sunday in London is expected to be lower this year, but the 75,000 at Wembley will still be a nice, tidy boost of about 20,000 over what the attendance would have been this weekend in Tampa Bay.
Money can speak very loudly, and if the Bucs can receive that kind of shot to the wallet once a year as the “home” team in London it’s difficult to see owner Malcolm Glazer turning down the chance to make the trip to jolly ol’ England more regularly.