Tuesday, July 26, 2011


The NFL will return to Wembley for a fifth straight year after a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the League and the players was reached.
The two sides agreed to a 10-year labour deal, ending a 136-day lockout, which allows the Chicago Bears to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London on October 23, as scheduled.
The Bucs will be in the capital for the second time in three years, having lost to the New England Patriots at Wembley in 2009.
The Bears beat the Dallas Cowboys in a 1986 preseason game at the old Wembley Stadium. Tickets go on sale on September 1, with the kick-off set for 6:00pm in the UK (1:00pm ET).
NFL UK managing director Alistair Kirkwood told Sportsmail that despite the limited time to promote the Wembley game, he was delighted that British fans would continue to get their fix of live NFL.
'The timescale is what it is,' said Kirkwood. But the agreement is good for everybody involved. We have had four and a half months of legal stuff which, from a fan-perspective hasn't been great, but we're pleased an agreement has been reached.'
He added: 'We've got two great teams coming over, Chicago are synonymous with the growth of the sport over here in the Eighties and a team who were in the NFC Championship game last season, and in Tampa we have the youngest team, the one with the most rookies last season, who emerged as a power in the NFC.'
Suggestions of a possible NFL team based in the UK have also been mooted, and with the long-term health of the League seemingly assured, the possibility of that happening may again be on the agenda.
So, too, is the possibility that the NFL will return to terrestrial TV. The sport is currently well-served by Sky TV, with four lives games shown each week.
Kirkwood would not be drawn on future plans for further NFL growth in the UK, but he hinted: 'There may be a few big surprises in store.'
After months of public nastiness and private negotiations, of players and owners squabbling over more than $9 billion a year, NFL fans finally saw the handshake on Monday and heard the words they awaited: 'Football's back.'
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith both used that phrase while standing shoulder-to-shoulder on Monday, announcing their agreement.
Then came what may truly be the lasting image of the dispute's resolution: Indianapolis Colts offensive lineman Jeff Saturday wrapped one of his burly arms around New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and enveloped him in a hug - a gesture that symbolized the acrimony's end more than any statement could.
'I'd like, on behalf of both sides, to apologize to the fans: For the last five, six months we've been talking about the business of football - and not what goes on, on the field, and building the teams in each market,' Kraft said, just days after buying his wife, who died of cancer.
'But the end result is we've been able to have an agreement that I think is going to allow this sport to flourish over the next decade.'
Owners can point to victories, such as gaining a higher percentage of all revenue, one of the central issues - they get 53 percent, players 47 percent; the old deal was closer to 50-50.
There's also a new system that will rein in spending on contracts for first-round draft picks.
Players, meanwhile, persuaded teams to commit to spending nearly all of their salary cap space in cash and won changes to off-season and in-season practice rules that should make the game safer.
One important compromise came on expanding the regular season from 16 to 18 games, which owners favoured.
That can be revisited for the 2013 season, but players must approve any change.
Now the frenzy starts.
Team facilities are open to players for the first time since March and 2011 draft picks and rookie free agents can be signed. Teams can also begin talking to veteran free agents.
Training camps for some teams may begin as soon as Wednesday.
Only one exhibition game was lost: the Hall of Fame opener between the Bears and Rams, scheduled for August 7 in Canton, Ohio.
Otherwise, the entire preseason and regular-season schedules remain intact.