BY ROB HARRIS
LONDON (AP) — The NFL is heading to a new destination in London, and the first match-up at English Premier League club Tottenham will be the Oakland Raiders against the Seattle Seahawks in October.
That’s if the 60,000-plus capacity stadium, which has been designed to accommodate soccer and NFL, is completed in time for Week 6.
While Tottenham is sure that building work is on schedule on the White Hart Lane site where its previous stadium was demolished last year, the NFL has contingency plans to move the Oct. 14 game to Wembley Stadium.
The home of the England national soccer team is where the NFL will be staging another two games after Raiders-Seahawks match-up, giving London three consecutive weeks of American football for the first time.
The Philadelphia Eagles will play the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Tennessee Titans will take on the Los Angeles Chargers. The NFL is yet to decide which game will be on Oct. 21 in Week 7 and which slots into Week 8 on Oct. 28.
“It’s a great learning for us, it’s another test for us,” Mark Waller, the NFL’s executive vice president of international, said Thursday at the site of Tottenham’s new stadium. “If we were ever to put a franchise in the UK we would need to know we can do three consecutive weekends.”
The NFL had planned to stage two games in the 2018 season at Tottenham, which was runner-up in the Premier League last season. But Tottenham, which is using Wembley as its own temporary home this season, doesn’t want the burden of two NFL fixtures when it is still settling into its new, unnamed stadium.
“We have created something very unique,” Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy said at the announcement of fixtures. “We still have another six or seven months of really hard work of construction.”
Tottenham has signed a 10-year contract for games with the NFL.
“We very much hope there will be a franchise in London and we would very much like this stadium to be used for that club,” Levy said. “We haven’t assumed there is going to be a franchise. It’s very much our desire.”
The new stadium was designed with NFL-sized changing rooms and to ensure the grass soccer pitch can be retracted and kept under lights below the stands when the artificial surface is required for NFL.
Waller said they “don’t want to alienate” fans of Tottenham’s rivals by being so closely associated with one Premier League team.
“We will need to get that right,” Waller said. “But we are also playing at Wembley so there will be plenty of other opportunities for fans to go elsewhere as well. It also puts an onus on us to ensure we are thoughtful about how we manage all our relationships.”
By the end of the year, 29 of the NFL’s 32 franchises will have played in London since regular-season games were first played in the British capital in 2007.
“When we played the first game here we had no idea if we were ever coming back,” Waller said.
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