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Wilf: Vikings Soaking Up Experience, Exposure in London

LONDON — The Vikings practiced on a gorgeous Friday morning at Hazelwood Park, the home of London Irish, a rugby club that was established in 1898 and became a professional organization in 1996.

The venue mixed two of the world's most popular sports — football and rugby — and gave the NFL added exposure, which Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf said the league is trying to do by playing multiple games a year across the pond.

The practice was the only Vikings full session in England before Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, which will be the fourth and final installment of the NFL's 2017 London Games series.

"I think it's great. We're very supportive of the NFL internationally," Wilf said. "We were here four years ago as a home team, now as a road team, we're very supportive of the efforts. We want to grow the game, it's a great game.

"For our team, it's good to be in this kind of exposure, under the lights, so to speak, even though it's a day game," Wilf added. "This kind of exposure and experience will be good for the team."

The Vikings and Browns will square off Sunday at 1:30 p.m. local time (8:30 a.m. CT) at Twickenham Stadium.

Sunday's game will be the fourth and final regular-season game played in London during the 2017 season.

Wilf was asked about the possibility of an NFL team eventually being based in London and said he wouldn't rule out the possibility.

"I think so. I think it can. There's a lot of logistics to it, a lot of things have to be worked through," Wilf said. "But I think one thing for sure, this being our 10th year doing it, and 26 teams have gone over here, I think the knowledge of the game and the fan base here has grown tremendously.

"Now, the last two seasons, the Sunday London game has been broadcast on free television, on BBC. I think that's given it more exposure as millions of fans have been watching it," Wilf added. "So we're getting to a point where that could potentially be the case, but we're focusing on our game Sunday."

Wilf said the travel distance is likely the biggest hurdle to overcome. London is a 4,000-mile trip one way from the Twin Cities.

"The distance is really a big issue. Potentially you'd maybe even have to have a base of operations in some form in the United States," Wilf said. "But those kinds of issues, the league is going to really look at."

Wilf said he didn't know when the next chance for the Vikings to play overseas would be, and added he was unsure if the team would be willing to give up a home game at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Wilf said his main focus is on the Vikings improving to 6-2 with a win Sunday against the Browns.

"The Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings are two storied franchises, so from that standpoint, we have great fanbases," Wilf said. "We have a lot of fans in the UK and Europe, so we're looking forward to a great turnout Sunday."

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