Speaking with reporters at Gillette Stadium earlier today, Patriots owner Robert Kraft cited the enormous and ever-growing fan base that his team has in the United Kingdom as one reason for New England's return engagement to London so soon after the club's initial visit there in 2009. The Patriots will face the St. Louis Rams in the NFL's annual International Seris game at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, October 28, three years after New England defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers there. As was the case in '09, the Patriots will be the "road" team because they would otherwise have played the Rams in St. Louis in 2012.
"We are very excited that we'll be playing in London," Kraft began, "because for us, in a way, it's like, I think, having another home game because we have such a large fan base there … it's a tremendous fan base. I'm happy that we're going to be going over there."
In a twist, the league also announced that the Rams would begin a three-year stint as the home team in the yearly London contests. Rams owner Stan Kroenke's ownership of London-based Arsenal Football Club no doubt played a role in the league's decision to grant St. Louis that honor.
However, Kraft revealed that league officials initially asked that the Patriots be the annual representative, but that he declined the offer.
"If you make that commitment, you have to give up a home game and we don't want to give up a home game," Kraft explained. "Our fan base [in the States] has been terrific to us, so, I'm hoping that our fan base in England continues to show up for us.
"Our name," he emphasized with a smile, "is the New England Patriots. We have a large contingent that comes over here every year with the UKPatriots Fan Club. We're looking at it as a way to support our fans overseas."
Kraft did not rule out the possibility of the Patriots playing additional games in London in the future, even if not on an annual basis.
"I vote for it, but that's a league decision," he said. "Actually, a lot of our fans are excited to travel. When we went the last time, I think a majority of the fans in the stands were rooting for the Patriots, even though the signage was for Tampa Bay … I hope that continues."