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NFL says it will only place full-time franchise in London if sure team will be competitive


LONDON — The NFL would only put a full-time franchise in London if all operational issues are worked out and the league is sure the team would be competitive, a league executive said Thursday.

Mark Waller, executive vice president of the NFL's international division, said there is no time frame for possibly placing a team in London, adding that a decision will come "when we're ready."

The NFL has played 11 regular-season games in London since 2007. Wembley Stadium will host three more games this season, starting with the Miami Dolphins against the New York Jets on Oct. 4.

The NFL recently announced a 10-year deal to play at least two games each season at Premier League club Tottenham's new stadium, which is scheduled to open in 2018.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have a four-season deal, which expires in 2016, to play at least one home game per season at Wembley.

NFL officials have said for years that they envisage having a franchise in London one day, though many issues still need to be resolved and the league wants to be sure an overseas team would be profitable.

"The key for us is that we've got to build real certainty that any team that was to make that undertaking could truly be competitive," Waller said in a conference call. "The last thing we would ever want to do is to put a franchise in a place where the logistics, the travel, the sourcing of players, the infrastructure for supporting teams through a season doesn't exist."

The games at Wembley have been sellouts and the NFL has built up a solid fan base in the U.K., where soccer, rugby and cricket are still the most popular sports. London Mayor Boris Johnson is among those pushing for a full-time team in the capital.

"We feel very comfortable from a fan perspective, from a sponsor and a stadium perspective now, that we have all of the right things in place," Waller said. "The one thing that we've got to do more work on is how would it work from a team operational standpoint?"

For the first time, the NFL is holding games on back-to-back weekends in London this season — the Jaguars against the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 25, followed by the Kansas City Chiefs against the Detroit Lions on Nov. 1. Wembley is also hosting its first division rivalry game, the AFC East contest between the Dolphins and Jets.

"We need to make sure that the concept, actually when you bring it into practice, the teams can still be competitive," Waller said. "There's no real way to prove that out other than testing it. .... Now we've got to be able to prove that and ensure to owners that we feel a team there could be competitive."

Asked whether the NFL might add a fourth contest in London in the future, Waller said the league is exploring expanding to "other markets," singling out Mexico and Germany as possible sites for games.

Waller said the NFL would also explore the idea of holding eight games overseas, not necessarily all in London.

"We will look at that as an alternative to potentially putting a franchise there," he said. "It definitely is an idea that has merit. It clearly is one that we haven't really started to focus on. So there's a lot of work to be done."

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