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Jacksonville Jaguars’ London Games Create Distance With Fans

There was a lot of upbeat talk from the Jacksonville Jaguars when the team announced on Tuesday that it would play two of its home games in London next season.

“Our London strategy has been a game-changer,” said Mark Lamping, the president of the team.

“There is no better time than now to capitalize on the opportunity to play two home games in London,” said the owner, Shad Khan.

But there was less positive talk about the move from another group: fans in Jacksonville, Fla.

“We vehemently oppose this decision,” the fan group Bold City Brigade wrote in a statement posted to its website Wednesday. The supporters also opposed the games with a petition, which had collected over 2,600 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.

The Jaguars have played a home game in London for seven straight seasons, accruing a 3-4 record there. Next season, they will become the first N.F.L. team to play two home games outside of the United States, playing those games in back-to-back weeks. Their opponents have yet to be confirmed.

For the Jaguars, the lure of London is partly about increasing the team’s fan base, but mostly about money. Games in London can bring in double the revenue of a Jacksonville home game, even though the team routinely sells 60,000 seats to every game in TIAA Bank Field.

Despite those solid ticket sales, the Jaguars have remained toward the bottom of N.F.L. revenue charts because of lagging corporate sponsorship, a particular problem in a smaller market that lacks many large companies.

Khan said he expected fans to react positively to the announcement of the London games. Their support did not seem to materialize immediately.

Jordan de Lugo, the president of Generation Jaguar, another fan group, said a clear majority of local fans opposed the decision. Other fans voiced their displeasure on social media.

“It saddens me to watch the city lose yet another home game to London,” wrote Twitter user Lawson Lyon.

The Jaguars were 6-10 in 2019 and have had just one winning season and one playoff appearance in the past 12 years.

The N.F.L. has played regular season games in London since 2007, and currently plays there four times a year. Games there tend to sell out quickly, and although they are not extremely profitable because of travel and other costs, the league has been eager to expand its footprint internationally. Reaction on message boards for U.K.-based football fans to the Jaguars news was generally positive, with some British fans musing that they now might become regular Jaguars fans.

The argument that Jacksonville is in special need of London games because of its revenue shortfalls did not convince many local fans.

“We, as the largest organized group of Jaguars fans, would like to propose that Mr. Khan put more of a focus on producing a decent product on the field as a potential way to build a sustainable franchise,” Bold City Brigade wrote. “We would contend that a record of 38-90 and only one season at or above .500 over the past 8 years would not create much sustainability in any market.”

On the plus side for Jacksonville season ticket holders, they of course will not have to pay for the London games as part of their package. The team also announced that the cost of games actually played in Jacksonville would be reduced by 5 percent. Prices for preseason games, which come with a season ticket plan, will be cut in half.

While some fans fretted that the home game shift might be the next step toward relocating the team to London, De Lugo noted that he believed that was unlikely given the sums Khan has invested in developing the area around the stadium. Commissioner Roger Goodell also said before the Super Bowl that he remained skeptical about a full-time international team.

No matter how much fans protest, the Jaguars appear set on playing two games in London in 2020. And one phrase used by Khan may have been particularly disquieting to them. He spoke of the plan for this season, adding “and maybe a bit longer.”

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