In an unprecedented step that begins the next chapter of the NFL's continued momentum of growing the international fan base, the St. Louis Rams have committed to becoming the first NFL team to play regular-season games abroad on an annual basis, the league announced today.
The Rams will play one regular-season home game in the U.K. in 2012, 2013 and 2014, beginning with a game against the New England Patriots on Sunday, October 28, 2012 at London's historic Wembley Stadium. The game will kick off at 1:00 p.m. ET (5:00 p.m. UK) and be televised live in the United States on CBS.
"The response to NFL games in the U.K. among our British fans has been exceptional," said NFL Commissioner ROGER GOODELL. "We are confident that having the Rams host one game in the U.K. in each of the next three seasons will allow us to better serve the growing popularity of our sport beyond the borders of the United States."
Last October 11, NFL owners approved a resolution that authorized the league to schedule regular-season games in the U.K. in each of the next five years, including to determine the number of games per season, the venue and the competing teams. All clubs were permitted to volunteer to play at least one regular-season game per year as a home team in the U.K. on an annual basis for up to five years, and the Rams' proposal was selected.
"This is a tremendous honor for our franchise, the city of St. Louis and our fans throughout the world," said Rams owner E. STANLEY KROENKE. "We are excited about the opportunity to reach new audiences globally. This is a great platform to showcase the city of St. Louis to London and the UK.
We've seen first-hand the increased popularity of the NFL not only in London but throughout Europe. To play a role in that growth over the next three years will be incredible and is a testament to the many good things happening not only in the NFL but also in the St. Louis Rams organization."
The Rams, who earlier this week announced the hiring of head coach JEFF FISHER, will face the Patriots - who on Sunday will play for the AFC Championship and a berth in Super Bowl XLVI - next season in London. New England defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London in 2009.
"We are honored to be selected for this year's game and eager to return," said New England Patriots Chairman and CEO ROBERT KRAFT. "We had such a great experience during our last visit to London. We are proud to have great support from our fans when we are on the road. The United Kingdom is home to some of our most passionate Patriots fans, including the UKPatriots, who are among our most active fan clubs overall, not just overseas. We look forward to another memorable experience."
The international series of regular-season games to date has contributed to increased NFL fan interest in the U.K., with a current fan base of 11 million, including more than two million avid fans, a 32% increase in the past two years.
Television ratings have also shown tremendous growth - with Sunday viewership of NFL games up 154% and the Super Bowl audience increased 74% since 2006 - while the league has developed new and stronger business partnerships.
"When the initial resolution to play international regular-season games was approved in 2006, the thinking at the time was that we would have two new teams every year," said NFL Vice President of International CHRIS PARSONS. "As the series evolved, we saw that having a team return to the U.K. on a regular basis would increase fan interest for that particular team, which in turn would drive fan growth for the entire league. We are incredibly excited to introduce a young, talented team like the Rams to our U.K. fans. And to do so against a team with the rich history and tradition of the Patriots makes it even more exciting."
The game between the Rams and Patriots at Wembley Stadium will be the only NFL contest in the U.K. next season.