The NFL has selected the Detroit Lions to play an away game against the Atlanta Falcons in London next season. (The Detroit News)
Allen Park — The Lions wouldn't volunteer to play a home game in London, but team president Tom Lewand said playing across the pond next season is a "great opportunity" for the team as the NFL tries to extend its reach internationally.
"We're looking forward to playing over there," Lewand said Thursday. "It doesn’t give up a home game, which is important to us. I think our fans deserve every home game that we can have at Ford Field, but this gives us an opportunity to take some of our fans on the road and make some new fans and do so on an international stage."
It was announced Thursday the Lions will play the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium in what will be one of Atlanta's eight home games in 2014. The date of the game has yet to be set, but Lewand said he expects it to be announced in the next few weeks. Ticket information will be available later, too.
While past London games have been at night and broadcast live in the afternoon in the United States, one of the three games next season could be played in the afternoon and broadcast in the morning stateside, Lewand said.
In addition to the Lions-Falcons game, the Jaguars will host the Cowboys and the Raiders will host the Dolphins in London next season. The NFL has two games in London this season but wanted to deliver more action to an international audience. The Vikings beat the Steelers in London in Week 4, and the Jaguars play the 49ers on Sunday.
Six of the seven NFL games in London since 2007 have drawn more than 80,000 fans.
"Our fans in the UK continue to demonstrate their passion for more football," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "Next year, for the first time, we will play three regular-season games in London. 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."
When the Lions and Falcons play, the Falcons will likely travel to London on the Tuesday prior, and as the home team, they'll have far more media obligations during the week. The Lions will likely fly Thursday night, then practice Friday and have a walkthrough Saturday, Lewand said.
Lewand sees potential for the Lions' business partners to take advantage of the international audience. He also said Ford Motor Company has extensive operations in the United Kingdom, which means there should be some local Lions fans.
"We have quite a few fans across the pond as well, so we'll get a chance for them to catch us up close," Lewand said.
The focus, though, will be on the game.
"The real focus is on the challenge that it presents for our team," he said. "It's a different setting, a different experience and that can only build skills and build experience as you have an opportunity to meet those challenges."
The Lions also played at Wembley Stadium in 1993, but that 13-13 tie against the Cowboys was an exhibition game. The Lions' only other international game was an exhibition against the Boston Patriots in Montreal in 1969, a 22-9 victory.
Lions defensive end Israel Idonije went to London with the Bears in 2011. Running back Reggie Bush went to London before the 2008 season for promotional purposes.
The NFL's selection of the Lions next season shows how marketable the team has become, Lewand said.
"Obviously, there's a number of guys on our team that have accomplished a tremendous amount as individuals," he said. "I think the team has accomplished a few things as a team. We've got a lot of work to do, but clearly there's some guys that have some marketability and that will be good narratives leading into next year.
"But the best narrative is to have a successful team this year, and that's what we need to keep focused on."