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NFL in London: Buccaneers surface as a suggestion, again

Despite lagging ticket sales, the Buccaneers aren't interested in moving to London.


It's annual NFL-to-London-week, it seems. Roger Goodell's obsession with getting a team based in Europe surfaced again when he talked to Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post, who promptly took that and turned it into "we'll be watching the London Jaguars in 2020". Of course, the Jaguars quickly denied most of that and said that they were committed to Jacksonville. Which seems likely: the Jaguars have been extremely active in revamping their business and increasing interest in the team. They're now averaging nearly 65,000 tickets sold per game, which is about 10,000 more than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers average.

With that sinking in, we can now turn to Pete Prisco asking why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren't considered a more likely candidate to move. After all, the Glazers own Manchester United (never mind that their fans hate them) and the Buccaneers averaged just 55,102 tickets per home game last season, which means they sold 83.9% of their tickets on average. That's pretty bad. In fact, both of those numbers rank second-to-last in the NFL, with only Oakland selling fewer tickets and the Dolphins selling a smaller percentage of their seats.

Do the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have issues selling tickets? Absolutely. But they're not unique in the NFL. In fact, take a look at any losing team (aside from the marquee teams) and you'll see largely empty stadiums. Games against the Carolina Panthers and San Diego Chargers stand out as particulary sparsely attended in my mind. The difference between those teams and the Bucs could be down to two things: either local businesses buy up more tickets there, or the owners buy off blackouts by buying up those tickets at a discount themselves. If local businesses are the problem in Tampa, though, that's certainly a problem for the Glazers.

Here's the deal, though: historically, ticket sales have never been a big reason for teams to move. Stadium issues have always been the leading cause of a move, regardless of attendance, and the Buccaneers have no stadium problems. There's no reason to believe that the dominance of stadiums in decisions to move is about to change, especially so with TV deals dominating the NFL's revenue stream. Ticket sales aren't irrelevant, but they're becoming less and less relevant. Another point there: club and suite ticket sales are much more important than regular tickets, too, and we don't have any data on those.

There are also some general problems with moving any team to London, though. There are legal issues surrounding labor, as most of the NFL's restrictions on labor like the draft, restricted free agency, trades, the waiver wire and the franchise tag would likely be illegal under Europe's labor laws. Soccer has been forced to change its rules on multiple occasions, most recently under the Webster ruling. The NFL may be able to circumvent some of that by basing a team's facilities and operations in the USA, while playing games in London. Other issues arise, too: most UK NFL fans I know are of the opinion that an NFL team in London will fail to create a dedicated fan base, while the NFL so far has only played one London game per year instead of the eight games a normal franchise would play. We'll see what happens in the future.

Putting all that aside, one overriding fact stands in the way of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers moving to London: they really don't want to. The Bucs played two home games in London from 2009 to 2011, as part of a strategy to grow their brand overseas while also mitigating the effects of poor ticket sales in the Tampa area. But when Raheem Morris was fired in at the end of the 2011 season, the Glazers also immediately said that they weren't interested in playing home games in London for the foreseeable future.

ESPN's Pat Yasinskas thought that was the result of a season-ticket holder survey, which suggested extremely negative local reactions. It at least suggested a deeper commitment to growing the local fan base, and signaled that the Bucs weren't interested in moving to London. At least not for the foreseeable future. So while all this London talk is intriguing for the NFL at large, the Buccaneers shouldn't be mentioned.

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