Do you like the early start times and sometimes weird vibes of the NFL’s London games? Hopefully, because the NFL is going full steam ahead with the strategy, and it’s looking increasingly likely that in the not-so-distant future every team will play one game per season abroad.
The NFL announced today that it had reached an agreement to play at least three games over a three-year period, starting in 2016, at London’s Twickenham Stadium, which is the English national rugby union team’s home ground. The press release is careful to note that the three games are just a “minimum,” leaving the door open for additional contests.
Just two weeks ago the league announced that it extended its deal through 2020 to play two games annually at Wembley Stadium, with an option to extend it for another five years. This summer the NFL announced an agreement to play two games annually at Tottenham Hotspur’s under construction new stadium, set to open in 2018. That deal runs for 10 years.
Assuming that at least one game is played at Twickenham in 2018, 10 teams—a full 31% of the league—will play in London. The only team currently scheduled is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who will play at Wembley every season through 2020. The Jaguars are owned by Shahid Khan, who also owns London-baed English Championship soccer team Fulham.
It doesn’t seem like the NFL’s international expansion is done, either. It’s expected that a 2016 game will take place in Mexico City as well, while Spanish sports newspaper AS reported that starting in 2017 or 2018, the NFL will stage one game per season in Mexico City. Roger Goodell has also said the NFL is exploring Germany—which was by far the strongest NFL Europe market—and Brazil, which might host the Pro Bowl in 2017.
Of the big four American sports, football has by far the weakest presence internationally. Basketball is played across the world, and to a lesser more regionally-defined extent, baseball and hockey are too. That makes it a bit curious that the NFL has been so aggressive with this strategy, but also explains why.
The American market is probably close to saturated, and the NFL can’t count on foreigners picking up the sport locally and becoming fans. To win their loyalty the NFL has to actively and forcefully market, and evidently believe local regular season games is the best way to attract converts.
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