Initially reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer, and officially announced soon after, the Cincinnati Bengals will play a "home game" at London's Wembley Stadium, "hosting" the Washington Redskins on Oct. 30, 2016. It will be carried on FOX with a kickoff time that's currently undetermined.
"We are proud to be a part of the NFL's initiative to grow our game abroad, and we believe this game will be a source of pride for Cincinnati as well," said Bengals President Mike Brown during a press release announcing the game. "It will provide a strong platform for our region's culture and recent progress. And we've long known that we have fans in London and the U.K. A number have visited Cincinnati for games over the years. We know they will be out to cheer us on, along with fans from our area who choose to travel to the game."
There were developing rumors earlier this week that Cincinnati could play a home game in London. Initially the circulated rumor had the Bengals "hosting" the Miami Dolphins in Wembley Stadium, until a Miami Herald beat reporter nixed that idea. The idea of a "home game" against the Philadelphia Eagles sprouted some legs, however that development limped along like a two-legged dog on a treadmill.
Tickets will be available for purchase beginning in January 2016.
The NFL International Series has seen 14 games in London since 2007, with two games played in 2013 which expanded to three in 2014 and 2015. Earlier this month, the league announced an agreement to play at least three games over the next three years at Twickenham Stadium in London, in addition to an agreement to play a minimum of three games, per season, through 2027 in London. The other current venue in London is where the Bengals will host the Redskins, at Wembley Stadium.
Mexico and Germany are also under consideration for future NFL games, potentially as soon as next year. "I'd be very disappointed if we weren't playing in (one of those countries in) 2017, and I'd like to think we might be able to pull it off in 2016," Mark Waller, the NFL's executive VP of International, told the Detroit Free Press last month. "That's the goal. We're trying to see if we can get it done in 2016, in one of those two. But if not, 2017 for sure." Another report enhanced the likelihood that Mexico City will host an NFL game in 2016, pending a couple of logistical issues.
According to the International Business Times, the league generated between $30 and $32 million in ticket revenue during three international games last season. To get an idea on how much the Bengals financially benefit, the Miami Dolphins received $1 million for sacrificing a home game this year and the league adds monetary compensation in the form of average ticket revenues. Bengals season ticket holders will only be fiscally responsible for seven home games in 2016, as well as two preseason games.
Despite being compensated, with logistics still being worked out, losing a home game creates concern among fans, worried that they'll lose home-field advantage. Will there be enough fans in London to create a similar atmosphere within Wembley Stadium? Will it be enough to drown out Redskins fans, who will probably enjoy their own contingent, significantly more than would be present in Paul Brown Stadium?
Maybe it's a non-issue.
Where fans in Cincinnati worry about losing their home field advantage, our fellow-fans in London, England and throughout Europe will gladly carry that responsibility. Christopher Hood, a Bengals fan from the UK since 1984, plans on attending. "The Bengals appearance in London is brilliant," said Hood. "It's a bit of a shame at one level that they've sacrificed a home game in Cincinnati for this match, but based on my experience of another Wembley match, it will still be a great day for the Bengals and there are a lot of Bengals fans over here."
An emailer by the name of Bishu is equally as enthusiastic because of a justified fear that the Bengals wouldn't ever play in London. "Now the dream has become a reality, I'm speechless," writes Bishu. "I will be attending, fully suited up. Looking forward to this more than any soccer game game."
Several players appear more receptive than others about playing in London next season, as Andrew Whitworth told the Cincinnati Enquirer, "I'm happy just for a one time thing, take the family and make it a fun experience for your family and your football team to go out there and play a game." Whitworth once said he'd rather quit than play for a hypothetical franchise in London, a long-term vision the league has kept on the table since integrating the International Series in 2007.
Several players that commented with that Enquirer spoke of minimal concerns surrounding routine and normalcy being disrupted by going to London.
There's a legitimate benefit too, not just for the Bengals, but for the city of Cincinnati as well. This game is "an opportunity for us to show an international audience what Cincinnati is all about," said Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley. "I can't think of a better way for us to leverage one of our best assets, the Bengals, to promote our city to businesses and tourists in the U.K."
"A game like this is an incredible opportunity for the Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitors Bureau," Dan Lincoln, President and Chief Executive Officer for Cincy USA, said. "We're working to attract meetings, conventions, events and visitors from all over the world. This puts Cincinnati front and center on the world stage, and we'll have a chance to give meeting planners and business leaders a glimpse into the amazing convention environment and visitor experience we can offer here."
The possibility of playing an international game has been within the organization's peripheral for over a year. Cincinnati reached an agreement with Hamilton County in 2014 to revise the the team's lease, thus opening the door to play international games as the home team. The lease previously called for Hamilton county to profit from ticket revenues and parking during all home games, which wouldn't have been possible if they played a home game outside the country.
The team's statement with Hamilton County says in part:
The agreement also allows the Bengals to participate in the NFL's International Series games. Given the league's growth overseas, the Bengals can now take the Cincinnati brand abroad on a periodic basis, consistent with the other teams in the league.