The Dolphins are heading back to London — an indication that although local interest in the franchise has waned, the NFL believes their global brand remains strong.
For the second time in eight seasons, the Dolphins will cross the Atlantic for a regular-season game. They will face the Raiders in London’s historic Wembley Stadium next fall, with a date still to be announced.
Miami has been designated the visiting team, meaning the Dolphins will still host eight games at Sun Life Stadium in 2014.
The Dolphins are the fifth NFL team invited to the United Kingdom multiple times — a list that includes Jacksonville, which has an annual agreement to play in London.
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The others — New England, Tampa Bay and San Francisco — have all appeared in at least one Super Bowl in the past 11 years. The Patriots and 49ers are full-blown national curiosities.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, have been largely an afterthought domestically as of late because of a string of losing seasons. But they have built a lasting global fan base thanks to six trips beyond U.S. borders in the past 25 years.
“To this day, we still have a huge international following,” said Dolphins senior vice president of media relations Harvey Greene. “We are one of the most popular international teams that there are. Not only in the UK, but elsewhere internationally. We’ve had a great visibility.”
The Dolphins last played in the United Kingdom in 2007, when they lost to the Giants 13-10 in the inaugural game of the International Series. The Dolphins have also played the Bills in Toronto (2008).
But their history abroad begins long before. The Dolphins have participated in four exhibition games outside the country: London in 1988, Tokyo in 1991, Berlin in 1992 and Mexico City in 1997.
“The Dolphins are proud to once again represent the league abroad as one of the six participants of the 2014 International Series,” Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said. “The opportunity to again connect with our many fans overseas and to expose a growing global audience to the sport we all love is something that our entire organization will fully embrace.”
Theirs will be one of three NFL games played in London next year. Cowboys-Jaguars and Lions-Falcons will be the others — the first time that six teams will play in the United Kingdom.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell unveiled the matchups during a meeting with sports journalists in London on Thursday.
“Our fans in the UK continue to demonstrate their passion for more football,” Goodell said. “We have scheduled three attractive games with four teams playing in their first International Series game.
“The growing enthusiasm for the NFL internationally is exciting, and we look forward to continuing to respond to this interest in our game.”
The expanded schedule is part of a clear effort by the NFL to broaden its reach beyond U.S. borders. Some speculate that the league’s end game is to put a franchise in London, and that these games are a test run to see if such an arrangement is sustainable.
The NFL claims there has been a 30 percent increase in avid British fans in the past two years, with a total fan base of more than 12 million. Sunday NFL TV viewership in the UK has almost doubled since 2006, the league states, and the Super Bowl audience is up 75 percent.
Even the kids are getting involved. Participation in amateur football has grown roughly 15 percent per year since 2007, the NFL reports.
As the Dolphins know firsthand, there’s a lot more logistically that goes into playing abroad than merely the nine-hour flight from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood to Heathrow.
Other issues include jet lag, finding a place to practice and the special demands that go along with participating in the game.
In 2007, the Dolphins took a Thursday night red-eye flight, arriving Friday morning in London on little sleep. As soon as they touched down, the bleary-eyed team had a mandatory media availability session.
They were then permitted a quick nap before their normal Friday practice. The problem: there were no usable football fields, and the top Premier League soccer stadiums were either unavailable or too far away.
Instead, they worked at the rugby stadium that was home to the London Wasps. Then-Dolphins kicker Jay Feely taught his British counterpart how to kick a football and vice versa.
The game was no picnic, either.
In addition to a loss to the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Dolphins had to deal with a steady rain and sloppy field.
This and that
• Although the Dolphins were off Thursday, they were still obligated to submit an injury report. There were no changes from Wednesday, meaning quarterback Ryan Tannehill would have still been limited with an injury to his throwing shoulder.
• Dolphins players paired up with 60 local students at the Hollywood Dave and Busters on Thursday, promoting healthy eating habits and exercise. The groups participating were the Boys and Girls Club of Broward, AMIkids and Seagull Industries for the Disabled.