London NFL franchise 'still an option'
London remains the most likely venue for the first NFL franchise to be housed outside of the United States, but any such plans are still very much in their infancy according to a senior figure within the NFL.
The NFL makes its first of two visits to Wembley on Sunday, September 29, when the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Minnesota Vikings.
Tickets for both games - the Jacksonville Jaguars will take on the San Francisco 49ers on October 27 - sold out within two hours, proof of the burgeoning UK-based NFL fan base, estimated to have grown to 2 million since the first regular-season game came to London in 2007.
"We've doubled our fan base in the last three-and-a-half to four years," Chris Parsons, the NFL's senior vice president of international told the Associated Press.
"I'd like to see that at least double again in the next three or four years. That would put us among the top five sports in the UK in terms of core fan base."
While having a full-time London franchise in the future is "clearly an option,", Parsons admitted that there are no immediate plans to expand to the UK.
"There are several steps we need to continue to take before we get to that deeper conversation," Parsons said. "We'd like to play more games every year as we move forward. Once you've got a sizeable fan base, the options are then much more available to you to do certain things."
For their part, Wembley officials say they're ready to enter into discussions. Managing director Roger Maslin believes the stadium could play host to a full roster of fixtures each season, should the opportunity arise.
"Absolutely we can," Maslin said. "I am absolutely confident if [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell wanted to have a franchise here we could absolutely deliver on it."
In the meantime, Maslin is angling for the next best thing - a Super Bowl staged under the Wembley Arch. Hosting the centrepiece event of the American football season is little more than a pipe dream right now, but Maslin insists London tops the list of potential international venues.
"They are a very progressive organization so long, long, long term they might consider (a Super Bowl in London), but it's a hell of a call," Maslin said of the NFL. "Absolutely - if they bring it anywhere in the world we want it here at Wembley."
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