Every week, more than 14,000 children in the United Kingdom play JagTag, a flag football program for school-aged children. It’s at the core of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ effort to market American football in the U.K. as part of the team’s deal to include the nation as part of its home market.
The Jaguars have sole marketing rights in the U.K. and have played a home game in London each of the past six seasons as part of a deal that runs into the 2020 season. Prior to the deal, Jacksonville was near the bottom of NFL team popularity in the U.K. Now, according to Hussain Naqi, the Jaguars’ London-based senior vice president of international development, the franchise is fourth in merchandise sales.
“[The deal] evolved out of the NFL looking for a club in position to move one of their home games to London, and the league wanted to test out the proposition of growing a fanbase around a team,” Naqi said. “I think we’ve proven that out.”Unlike other NFL teams that play games in London, the team retains their sponsorship and merchandise sales in the U.K. during game weekends. But Jacksonville’s front office also retains rights to sell sponsorships on a year-round basis in the U.K., prompting the need for Naqi and his small team overseas. The revenue made in London under the deal technically counts as “local” revenue for the Jacksonville franchise, Naqi said.
Naqi credits the team’s growth in the region to two factors in particular. One is owner Shad Khan’s long view toward the London presence, which is enhanced by his ownership of the Premier League club. The second is JagTag, which could see its participation numbers climb into the six-figure range pending a new deal, of which Naqi didn’t divulge details.
“These kinds of commitments, that’s long-term, having elementary school kids playing the game leads to the next generation of fans,” Naqi said, before noting that it could possibly even generate future NFL talent.
Those growth efforts spill over into the community, too. The team brings 600 children to the London game for free and offers a “Gridiron Grant,” sending a boy and girl JagTag participant each year to university for free.
The investment in the long-term fan development is a smart play, said Sam Yardley, senior vice president at the U.K.-based marketing firm Two Circles, which works with NFL GamePass in Europe but has no direct affiliation with the Jaguars’ efforts. The English-born Yardley now works in firm’s Los Angeles office but said that establishing a fanbase five time zones away from a home stadium is a tough task.
“It’s really quite positive what they’re doing,” Yardley said. “The naive, crazy commercial way would figure how to get more people buying tickets and merchandise or to get them to pay X amount for a subscription. That might be a long-term goal, but it’d be impossible to do without establishing a foothold and investment in a future fanbase.“It’s a good learning experience for North American parties to learn you can’t monetize a fanbase if it doesn’t exist and to be smart in investments and thinking about things in the long-term in the right way.”
Naqi is all about the big picture, and recognizes that even the furthest corner of off-field growth still could use a little on-field help. He openly credits the team’s 2018 AFC Championship Game appearance for helping cultivate interest in the U.K. and hopes the team further bolster awareness through more wins plus splashes in free agency and the NFL draft. The team will also hold player tours, with two or three high-profile players making their way through several U.K. cities including London, Manchester, and Glasgow. Then there’s the fourth-annual full contact football academy later this summer, which has drawn players from as far as Russia, Naqi said. And once the NFL season gets underway, the team holds watch party for every Jags game.
“A lot of what we try to do is extend the calendar beyond the game week,” he said. “We don’t want a circus to come to town and then drop off and no one tries to have a year-round conversation.”
Khan has made plenty of investments in the Jacksonville community, so a rumored full-time move to London by the franchise seems unlikely, at least in the near future. If anything, the extension of Jacksonville’s home market to the U.K. could further entrench the Jaguars in Florida by allowing the organization to have its cake and eat it, too.
“From a business perspective, it allows us to think differently,” Naqi said. “It’s a really interesting opportunity, a new way of looking at things. If Shahid has proven anything though, it’s that he’s really committed to Jacksonville and will do whatever it takes to be successful, including thinking about things differently.”
However, with the Jacksonville-London deal up in 2020, the NFL has a decision to make whether or not to keep the home market extension moving forward. If the league does, Naqi said they’re ready to keep growing their efforts.