American Football: London calling but Buccaneers reject transatlantic move


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The Independent Online

With speculation bubbling that the NFL are ready to seriously consider putting a franchise in London, the focus has fallen on the possibility of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers becoming the team to up such historic sticks.

But as they prepare to play at Wembley for the second time in three years, Tampa Bay's general manager emphatically ruled out such a possibility.

"This team is never going to relocate from Tampa and go to London," said Mark Dominik, during practice at a Surrey hotel for tomorrow night's showdown with the Chicago Bears. "I know there's been some rumblings saying we may relocate, but we're very happy to be the 'Tampa Bay' Buccaneers and we will be going forward."

Dominik, however, was rather more vague on the chances of the Bucs playing a game in north-west London every year if and when the NFL stages two Wembley games a season, perhaps even as soon as 2012. "At that point it will be 'a matter for discussion,'" he said, while noting last week's vote to keep playing at least one game a year in London for the next five years.

What may also be a matter for discussion is that for the first time since the NFL hosted a competitive game in England five years ago, this collision will not be a sell-out. Saying that, the close-season lock-out plainly did not help in that regard.

"This year, with us not being able to confirm the game until [after the strike ended in] August and given that 85 per cent of our fans travel from outside London, we've not been able to give them as much notice to plan their trips, so that wasn't easy," said Alistair Kirkwood, the NFL UK managing director.

Kirkwood added: "Five weeks into the season, we've seen our TV ratings up more than 20 per cent year-on-year. To get an attendance up in the mid-70,000s is up there with any other major sporting taking place in this country... and the fact I'm having to justify it shows how far we have come."

It is how far they are prepared to go that will be the most pertinent point and today at a London hotel, Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, will be hosting a Q&A with fans where he is sure to be quizzed about the hottest topic in British gridiron. The optimism will only be stoked by a talent camp being held in the Soccerdome in Greenwich this morning which will see some of the most talented players in Britain aged 16-19 completing physical and football tests observed by a group of NFL scouts.

The game itself should only pronounce the positive vibe. The weather forecast is kind, which is good news for the diehards in London. For the first time, they will get to watch two teams presently sporting 500 records or better. Furthermore none of the other four match-ups at Wembley pitted off teams who had both won the previous week.