LONDON (AP) — The St. Louis Rams took the first step toward becoming Britain’s “home” team Friday, agreeing to play a regular-season NFL game in London in each of the next three seasons.
Their opponent is in the running to become Super Bowl champions.
The Rams will play the New England Patriots on Oct. 28 at Wembley in the first game of the deal, about two months after the closing ceremony of the London Olympics. That will be followed by games at Wembley against undetermined opponents in 2013 and 2014.
The Rams are owned by Stan Kroenke, who also is the majority shareholder in English club Arsenal. The team will give up home games in St. Louis in each of the three seasons to play in London.
“We’ve seen first-hand the increased popularity of the NFL not only in London but throughout Europe,” Kroenke said in a statement. “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.”
This year’s contest will be the sixth regular-season game at Wembley. Despite plans to bring a second game to Britain starting next season, the NFL said the Rams-Patriots date would be the only one in 2012.
“This year is a very competitive year for sport in the UK, especially with the Olympics in London,” NFLUK managing director Alistair Kirkwood said. “Also, with the Rams having made an unprecedented commitment to playing in the UK for the next three years, we wanted to focus on them as our ‘home’ team without another game taking place.
“We would like to increase beyond one game per year as soon as possible and the five-year commitment by the owners to playing in the UK allows us to make that decision when we feel it is appropriate.”
NFL owners agreed last year to play regular-season games in the UK for the next five seasons. The league said Friday that all the games would be played at Wembley.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has repeatedly spoken of the possibility of having a full-time franchise there one day.
The Rams finished 2-14 this season, tied for the NFL’s worst, and have won only 15 games the last five seasons. Last week, the team hired Jeff Fisher as head coach to replace the fired Steve Spagnuolo.
The NFL first played at Wembley in 2007, with the New York Giants beating the Miami Dolphins 13-10. Since then, seven other teams have visited Britain, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers making the trip twice.
The Patriots have already been to London, beating the Bucs 35-7 in 2009. The Bucs returned this season, losing to the Chicago Bears 24-18 in October — the first of the Wembley games that wasn’t a sellout.
This season, the Patriots have been one of the best teams in the league. Led by quarterback Tom Brady, they will face the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday in the AFC Championship with a chance to reach their fifth Super Bowl in the last 11 years.
And Patriots owner Robert Kraft is already looking forward to coming back to London.
“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,” Kraft said.
In the NFC Championship, the New York Giants will host the San Francisco 49ers.
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