(Note: Erin Casey from the NFL Events department is one of a handful of NFL employees who arrived in England more than a week before the annual International Series game on Oct. 25 between the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Erin will file a series of blog updates this week, beginning with this one.)
LONDON — After nearly nine months of preparation, the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are only seven days away from playing in the NFL’s third annual game at Wembley Stadium.
At every major event, the NFL operates out of a central location, referred to as headquarters. In London, that is the beautiful Landmark Hotel. Our offices here opened last Wednesday.
It’s hard to imagine all of the work that goes into planning any NFL game, but international games pose unique challenges. The stadiums and practice facilities in London are designed with other sports, such as soccer, rugby and cricket, in mind. The grass is grown and cut differently, the locker rooms are smaller, and they use different weight equipment for strength training. Those may sound like minor differences, but to an NFL coach like Bill Belichick, every detail counts. As you can imagine, there is quite a bit of sensitivity about our 300-pound linemen damaging the most storied and hallowed sporting grounds in England. Our job is to negotiate compromises that preserve the interests of both parties.
During the spring and early summer, we took operations, marketing and security representatives from both teams on tours of multiple sports venues and hotels in the London area to determine which suit their needs best. In the past, teams have chosen Chelsea and Arsenal’s training facilities, WASP’s rugby field, and we have renovated existing fields at countryside hotels — where the English national rugby and soccer teams practice — to match them with NFL standards. When teams decide to travel during the week, and which hotel they choose to stay at, strongly influence the practice site they select. We also try to get to know each other on those trips, and have some fun. It’s very important to have good relationships with team personnel, and we almost always have a lot of laughs. A night of dinner, dancing and drinks at Soho’s “Little Italy” has practically become a rite of passage.
The Pats decided to fly overnight Thursday, arriving first thing Friday morning. They will practice at a cricket ground in London that afternoon and then have a walk-thru at Wembley on Saturday morning. The Bucs, who are the home team, have chosen to fly Friday morning and arrive in London that evening. They will have one walk-thru at Wembley on Saturday afternoon, before the game on Sunday. This means they will stay closer to their usual schedule during the week, but will have less time to acclimate to the time difference. Both teams have chosen five-star hotels on Park Lane in downtown London, near Hyde Park.
Last week, we finished the details and signed any remaining contracts, received and sorted the practice and game equipment that was shipped via ocean freight, submitted the rooming lists, set up the offices at headquarters and reviewed procedures for the team charter arrivals at Heathrow Airport. This weekend, while the Pats and Bucs are playing their Week 6 games, we will paint the field at Wembley and review ticket allocations. On Tuesday, we will switch gears and focus on transforming the cricket ground into an NFL practice site and begin welcoming NFL executives and sponsors to town for the game and its events. It’s sure to be exciting and unpredictable at times – as operations always are. Stay tuned for more updates throughout the week!
– Erin Casey