The Jacksonville Jaguars are going to be England's team.
The NFL and the Jaguars announced Tuesday that the small-market franchise will play one home game in London for four consecutive seasons beginning in 2013 -- a step the team believes will broaden its fan base and take some pressure off locals who have mostly failed to fill the stands in recent years.
''I passionately believe the big growth now is going to come from overseas,'' owner Shad Khan said. ''We've got to go where we can leverage and take advantage of some of those things. You've got to fish in ponds where you've got fish in there. We're going to a pond where there are no fishermen.''
The Jaguars will play at historic Wembley Stadium, which has hosted one NFL game annually since 2007.
''We want to create an identity, a bold, ambitious franchise that is aggressive and forward-thinking on the field and away from the field,'' Khan said. ''We want to be the kind of franchise players want to belong to, sponsors want to be part of, and Jacksonville is proud of. . . . The key point is to sell Jacksonville to the world. We are a well-kept secret, but after today, that's not going to be the case.''
By all accounts, the Jaguars are the NFL's least popular team. They rank at or near the bottom of the league in website hits as well as Twitter and Facebook interactions. Although Jacksonville is the largest city in the continental United States in terms of land mass, it is home to just 1.3 million people -- and that includes several surrounding areas; London alone has 8 million people.
Missing the playoffs in 10 of 12 seasons has made attracting fans a problem in Jacksonville. The team used to pack the stands regularly, even though it plays in a stadium built to house large crowds for the annual Florida-Georgia college football game.