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Jaguars’ Unique Arrangement Builds U.K. Audience

Hussain Naqi is leading an aggressive investment by the Jacksonville Jaguars to build a fanbase in the U.K. beyond its once-a-year London games.





Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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.”

READ MORE: NFL Viewership Growth Throughout Europe Exposes Opportunities in the US

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.”

READ MORE: Inside the NFL’s Plan to Turn Its 100th Season Into a Yearlong Celebration

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.

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. He's written two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer. Evans can be reached at

Global Sport

Inside Wanda Sports Group’s IPO

The parent company of Ironman is looking to raise its profile ahead of the next Winter Olympic games in Bejing, China in 2022.

Front Office Sports




*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

Wanda Sports Group is the latest company joining the parade of sports-centric IPOs.

Joining a list of the likes of Endeavor and Peloton, Wanda Sports’ IPO is based on building more awareness and funds ahead of the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, according to Matthew Smith of Inside the Games.

What is Wanda Sports Group?

It’s the sport and live events unit of Wang Jianlin’s Dalian Wanda Group.

WSG currently owns Ironman, events like the Rock n’ Roll races and the Cape Epic mountain bike race and Swiss sports marketing company Infront Sports & Media.

A look at its financials…

According to its SEC filing earlier this month, here’s a breakdown of some of WSG’s key financial numbers. 

– As of March 31, 2019, WSG had total assets of $2.27 billion, including $209.67 million in cash in hand.

– For the three months ended March 31, 2019, Wanda Sports recorded revenue of $277 million and a loss of $9.6 million.

– For 2018, WSG reported revenues of $1.27 billion and a profit of $58 million. That number is down from $86 million in 2017.

What will the money be used for?

According to the report from Inside the Games, the company will use the money to pay off debt. That debt, according to Mingtiandi, an Asia real estate intelligence publication, is from a loan which it had taken out to pay off a $350 million promissory note to Wanda Group as part of the restructuring that allowed the sports marketing division to win its independence from the rest of Wang Jianlin’s empire.

READ MORE: St. Louis Blues Stanley Cup victory breaks Fanatics sales record in 12 hours

Other goals for the money include growing its presence in the Chinese sports media and events market ahead of Beijing 2022. In 2018, over 95 percent of the sports unit’s revenue came from outside China.

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Global Sport

UFC Looks to Asia as Next Frontier of Expansion Efforts

UFC has built footholds on three continents. Now, it’s hoping for a fourth, with China serving as its greatest focal point.




UFC China Asia

Photo Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

UFC has worked for two decades to establish cultural footholds in North America, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand. Now, it’s set its sights on Asia. UFC is working diligently to build media relationships and an on-the-ground presence to seize a major market opportunity, an especially tricky proposition in a region too complex for a one-size-fits-all approach.

“Asia is a vast continent made up of many different countries, each with their own traditional martial arts and [each] are at varying stages in their MMA journey,” said Kevin Chang, UFC senior vice president of Asia. “Ensuring that our fans have access to our premium content, whether via television, digital platforms, social media or on-ground activations like athlete tours and live events is crucial.”

Currently, China represents its fastest-growing Asian market, a welcome development given the county’s massive size. Chang makes no bones about China garnering much of UFC’s attention in the region, either.

READ MORE: Building on Country Pride, Combate Americas Looks for Big 2019

“[It’s] the most important market to develop for the UFC,” he said.

But Chang also tabbed Korea, Japan and the Philippines as other mature MMA markets, with India, Thailand and Singapore just behind.

The promotion is well aware of the fight on its hands. The Asian market is largely dominated by One Championship, which has a strong grip on market share in the region according to Forbes. And just as UFC has worked to stake its claim overseas, One is making a similar push into the U.S., according to a January report by the AP.

The growth in Asia should continue a rapid rise in relevance for UFC. It wasn’t all that long ago that UFC was a niche organization in the U.S. UNLV Sports Content & Social Media Manager Jon Castagnino remembers working with the promotion on a one-to-one basis at a Las Vegas news station a decade ago.

“It was this niche thing. Now it’s this big global entity,” said Castagnino, recalling the days of 8,000-person UFC events at Mandalay Bay. “To see it grow and grow, I didn’t see it coming, but I’m not surprised. They weren’t anything like they are today. It’s just been like an avalanche that’s continued for 10 years.”

To compete with the Asian-based organizations, UFC knows the key to success is not just on-the-ground events but creating better penetration via constant contact and content for engaged fans.

“Our intention is to build deeper and meaningful connections with our fan base across a multitude of touch points,” Chang said. “We’ve laid the foundation from which to continue to expand and become part of the fabric of the mainstream sports culture.”

To that end, UFC has focused on supplementing live events with short- and long-form content through a wide range of partnerships with media platforms like Wechat, Weibo, Toutiao, PPTV and many more.

“China is a complex consumer market with a savvy and digitally fluent consumer base who engage with brands and content on the go, wherever and whenever they want,” Chang said. “Our programming reach and following is extremely high, particularly in key markets.”

Chang said UFC will also nurture relationships with the right regional media partners, a template that’s worked for them elsewhere in areas like their expanded relationship with ESPN.

READ MORE: BYB Extreme Hopes to Usher Bare Knuckle Boxing Back to Prominence

Aside from media partners, UFC will open a multi-million-dollar performance institute in Shanghai later this year meant to develop Chinese athletes and ultimately become the hub of UFC’s Asian interests.

UFC leadership also recognizes there are opportunities in less mature markets such as Eastern Europe and Africa, which the organization will tackle through education and awareness. Asia, however, will remain a priority for UFC because of the market scale and potential it offers as a global region well-versed in martial arts.

“Every country is unique and as such requires a different strategy and approach,” Chang said. “We want to create the content that our fans in Asia want, featuring local and international athletes in a format that resonates with them.”

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