By Rory Carroll LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Spain, France, Brazil and even Australia are being looked at as possible future sites for NFL regular season games as the league ramps up its efforts to grow the game abroad, a league official said. The NFL kicks off the first of this season’s international games on Sunday […]
NFL eyes Spain, France and Brazil as sites for future international games
By Rory Carroll
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Spain, France, Brazil and even Australia are being looked at as possible future sites for NFL regular season games as the league ramps up its efforts to grow the game abroad, a league official said.
The NFL kicks off the first of this season’s international games on Sunday at Wembley Stadium in London before the series shifts for the first time to Frankfurt for two games starting Nov. 5.
“A major focus of the league and our clubs has been bringing our game abroad, connecting with fans, and growing the next generation of fans outside the U.S.,” NFL executive vice president Peter O’Reilly told Reuters.
“It’s a long term commitment that we’ve been at for a while, but now we’re doubling down.”
While easily the most popular and profitable league in the U.S., the NFL’s growth in soccer-obsessed Europe has been more modest.
NFL Europe, which began in 1991 with 10 teams, shuttered in 2007 and was replaced by regular season NFL games starting with a contest at Wembley in October 2007.
O’Reilly said the league now has a firm foothold in London, as well as in Mexico and Germany, and said passionate locals will outnumber expats and American tourists when Wembley hosts its 25th NFL game this weekend.
“This is not a novelty anymore,” he said.
“It may have been back at the very first game at Wembley, but now this is a really educated fanbase.”
About 82% of tickets sold for two London games at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium next month went to fans in the United Kingdom, the NFL said.
There are no immediate plans to add a club in London, or an entire four-team division in Europe, but O’Reilly said expanding the game’s reach helps lay the groundwork in case that opportunity arises.
And while Saudi Arabia has controversially poured hundreds of millions of dollars into sports including golf and Formula One, O’Reilly said there were no discussions about hosting a game there, although he did not rule out the possibility.
“More broadly, the Middle East is an important part of the world and that’s an area where we want continue to grow our fanbase,” he said.
The NFL is also looking to add more international players and recently announced it would expand practice squads for all 32 teams to include one player born outside North America as part of its International Player Pathway (IPP) program.
Thirty-seven international players have signed with NFL teams since the program launched in 2017, including Australia’s Jordan Mailata, who started at tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles in last season’s Super Bowl.
O’Reilly said he expects that number to rise.
“There’s a pathway to 150 foreign born players in the NFL in the not so distant future,” he said.
This season’s five international games are:
* Atlanta Falcons vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, Oct. 1, WembleyStadium * Jaguars vs. Buffalo Bills, Oct. 8, Tottenham HotspurStadium * Baltimore Ravens vs. Tennessee Titans, Oct. 15, TottenhamHotspur Stadium * Miami Dolphins vs. Kansas City Chiefs, Nov. 5, FrankfurtStadium * Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots, Nov. 12,Frankfurt Stadium
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles, editing by Pritha Sarkar)