London-based franchise NFL goal, says 49ers chief
LONDON (Reuters) - NFL's ultimate goal in its foreign ventures must be to have a London-based franchise, San Francisco 49ers president Jed York said on Friday.
The 49ers are in England for Sunday's game with the Denver Broncos at Wembley Stadium, in what will be the NFL's fourth sold-out sortie across the Atlantic and York said the travels have been well worth the effort.
"I think it is time and money well spent but for us I think we need to figure out what is the end result," York told Reuters at the global sport summit in London.
"I think we are a way away from that but I think when you sell out four games in a row do you start to bring more teams over here or bring more games?
"I think that is the next step but the ultimate goal is to have a franchise in London."
York, whose struggling team come to Wembley with a 1-6 record against the Broncos who are 2-5 after three consecutive losses, said the London market would be well-suited to one of the United States' most popular sports.
"When you look at London being one of the great cities in the world, it is a great market for anybody to grow and there is already an understanding of American Football in the UK."
While London's NFL fans may have to wait a little longer for a 'home' team to support, in the meantime they could see more action in the capital with the number of regular season games set to be extended.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told Reuters on Friday: "We are contemplating extending our season from 16 to 18 regular-season games -- that'll give us more flexibility to bring more games into the UK and other markets around the world."
NFL's standing in England has been helped by links between its teams and Premier League soccer clubs. Manchester United's Malcolm Glazer owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner also owns the Cleveland Browns.
While he does not want to buy a Premier League team, the link between the two sports is something York wants to tap into.
"When you look at the NFL, we are by far the most dominant sport in our market and obviously the Premier League is the most dominant in European football," he said.
"We are just starting to put our toe in the water, reaching out to some of the (Premier League) clubs and just having conversations and seeing how they and us are running our businesses."
With everything from how to best nurture talent to marketing techniques, York believes the time has come for NFL, who have also played regular-season games in Mexico City and Toronto, to become an international brand.
He said: "The more we can work together, the easier it is going to be for the 49ers to be successful in London and for a Premiership team to be successful in the States if you are working with someone who has a lot more local experience than you do."
(Additional reporting by Lily Grimes)