When tickets for the NFL’s first game in Germany went on sale in July, the worst seats in the entirety of Allianz Arena were being sold left and right for upwards of $600. Germany has never had a mainstream NFL game in the country before, and although the first matchup would obviously be given a serious amount of marketing, it was hard to imagine this type of interest from the Germans. The NFL even said the only reason it wanted to have a game in Germany was to “gauge interest,” in various German markets.
Clearly, the NFL wasn’t sure what kind of welcome it’d be given in Munich, but within moments, tickets were sold out. Why though? I understand that Germany stood out among European markets back when NFL Europe was still around, but that was 15 years ago. You’d think most German fans would’ve moved on.
As the game in question will be played this weekend, I spoke to Dustin York, associate professor of communication at Maryville University, to comprehend just how much Germany wanted this game to happen, what it took to make it happen, and the likelihood that Germany becomes as integral a part of NFL scheduling as London is in the near future.
“I wasn’t too surprised,” said York when asked about the insane demand for the Bucs-Seahawks game in Munich. “Super Bowl views in Germany have been on a constant upward climb from 600,000 when [the NFL] left in 2007 to about three million now. They’ve also had success with German players going back and being spokespeople. They’ve used their personalities, and from a marketing standpoint, that’s a big piece.”
Players like Raiders’ fullback Jakob Johnson have been enormous for the NFL’s marketing strategy in Germany. Johnson, who played college football at Tennessee, has routinely gone back to Germany to help promote the NFL to his countrymen. He was elated but unsurprised by Germany’s incredible demand for NFL football, “German fans have been waiting for this for a long time,” said Johnson. “Football in Germany is a lot bigger than I think most Americans might think.”
When asked how much the presence of Tom Brady likely affected German demand, York told Deadspin, “Yeah. That’s why the NBA has been so globalized. It’s a more athlete-centric game than a team-driven game like the NFL.
“The NFL has tried linking certain teams and brands to different countries, like the Rams to Australia or the Seahawks and Vikings to Canada or the Jags to London,” York continued. “The problem is that those brands are abstract, but with Tom Brady...that’s a person. That’s someone I can get behind on social media, on the television, like the celebrity style, and Tom Brady is a great example of those types of people.”
Even without Brady though, German appeal was likely vastly higher than anyone at the NFL headquarters could’ve anticipated. With rumors of an NFL team being based in Europe circulating for years, the German interest has likely skyrocketed putting a team overseas up the NFL’s list of priorities.
“From a marketing side, it’s a no-brainer,” York said. “Logistically though, it’s a nightmare.
“Travel would be a nightmare. It would be massively expensive, but they’d make up for those expenses easily,” he added. “I think it would become mainly a players’ union issue, but they would put a team in Europe in a second if they could figure out the logistics.”
When asked to elaborate, York said, “There’s really no room for growth for sports in the United States anymore. It’s still very valuable. They’re not just going to throw it in the dumpster, but there’s not growth. The NFL is worth so much, they have to go big-game hunting if they want to expand, and the only way they do that at this point is globalization.”
Based on that analysis, an NFL team in Europe is still likely many years away. However, if the NFL wants to capitalize on the European market immediately, it needs to find a sweet spot between putting a team in Europe and having it be a logistical nightmare and having an entirely separate league in Europe like the one that failed in the mid-2000s. York believes that the best course of action for the NFL to take in the short term is to continue what they’re doing.
“The NFL does a great job at mirroring other cultures,” he said. “When they have games in London, it doesn’t feel like an American thing in London. It feels like a London thing, just with football.”
According to York, the NFL can’t afford to start another league again and expect it to succeed overnight, especially when the best product will still be in America. “They need to take their best product and just tweak it marginally to appeal more to different cultures,” he noted.
With that in mind, we should expect the NFL to lean into the NFL’s tailgating culture for this Bucs-Seahawks game. Former Kansas City Chiefs executive Carl Peterson, who was also a big proponent of NFL Europe once said, “Germans really liked our game. I think they love the tailgating part of it too, festive group.” He recalled the fans, sometimes upwards of 50,000, that would come out for every game. If that’s what sells in Germany, I imagine the NFL is well aware and would thus lean heavily into that part of NFL culture. With three more games scheduled to be played in Germany (one more in Munich, two in Frankfurt), the NFL doesn’t want to change their product much, if at all, only to make minor adjustments that make the German people feel like they’re still experiencing a German event.
Germany has recently surpassed England as the NFL’s leading international market. “Game Pass has more subscribers, consumer products sell more in Germany than in the UK, Madden video game sells more, TV rights are comparative,” Brett Gosper, NFL Head of U.K. and Europe, told The Associated Press in an interview. Germany has even produced a set of casual NFL fans, approximately 17 million or so, according to Gosper — something the U.K. is sorely lacking.
While interest didn’t take off astronomically until NFL games became commercially available in 2015, the NFL is still arriving late to the German party. Gosper claimed that the addition of a 17th game was crucial to the NFL scheduling more international games. However, based on the initial appeal, I doubt anyone within the NFL is worried that they waited too long to appease the Germans. Clearly, there’s a massive market to be infiltrated, and it’s been that way for a long time. We just never realized it.