NFL Pushing to Expand International Fanbase

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This Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots play the final game of this year’s International Series in Frankfurt, Germany. It is the fifth international game this season, the second in Germany in 2023, and the 43rd game of the International Series since it began in London in 2007. has the Colts favored by two points.

Last week, after the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Miami Dolphins in Frankfurt, Chiefs president Mark Donovan said that each year the Chiefs are eligible to make the trip to play overseas, they will happily go.

“We think the opportunity exists today for us to set a foothold that we are the world’s team, that people look at the Chiefs as an international representation of the NFL,” explained Donovan.

It’s hard to argue with Kansas City being the face of the NFL. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the reigning MVP, the Chiefs have won two of the last four Super Bowls, and at online sportsbooks across the country, they are among the favorites to win it again.

Since 2022, the NFL has assigned team rights to certain international markets, allowing those teams to freely market themselves across those countries. These agreements also allow teams to sell international sportsbook partnerships.

The Chiefs have rights in Germany, along with the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs played in the inaugural Germany game last year.

When teams play internationally, they give up a home game, and the revenue that comes with that home game. But Donovan says the sacrifice, as well as the money spent to host a game in a foreign country, will “pay off over time.”

Future International Sites

In the UK, where there have been 36 NFL regular season games, the league hasn’t played outside of London. But in two years in Germany, the league has played in Munich and Frankfurt, and is expected to target Berlin next. Düsseldorf is also being studied as a possible host.

A survey of international viewers revealed that Germany has the most households outside North America that regularly watch American football, which makes expanding the league in Germany a top priority.

Beyond Germany, a game in Madrid is a strong desire of the NFL, and that could happen as early as next year. Brett Gosper, the NFL Head of Europe and UK, said, “We’re looking at the viability of places such as Spain and France in Europe.”

Because Paris is hosting the Olympics in 2024, licensing and stadium availability is more difficult, which likely means that a game in France is at least two years away. The NFL has also sent league officials to Brazil to look at potential game sites in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Last February’s Super Bowl was watched by 2.5 million viewers in Brazil, which represented a 19% increase over the year before.

Mexico had the largest Super Bowl audience outside of the United States, with more than 20 million viewers. The NFL has played four games at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, with a fifth game in 2018 canceled because of field issues. There was no game in Mexico this year because of stadium renovations, but the league may return in 2025.

Growing the Game Globally

The announcement that flag football will be an official sport in the 2028 Summer Olympics was a big win for the NFL, and for the popularity of American football beyond the United States.

Since Yao Ming entered the NBA in 2002, the league has easily been the most popular American sport in China. But Super Bowl LVII was watched by 6.2 million Chinese, which was a 43% increase over Super Bowl LVI.

When the NFL created its international marketing partnerships, the Rams were given the rights to China. The China National Football League has been around since 2013. It has 33 teams, and more than 90% of the players are Chinese nationals. The most recent champions are the Shanghai Wolves.

Beginning in 2024, the NFL is expanding its practice squads to include one international player for all 32 teams. This is an expansion of the International Pathway Program, which was first launched in 2017, with the goal of developing players from around the world.

A player will qualify for the extra practice squad spot if their principal place of residence is somewhere outside the United States or Canada, and their high school experience in the United States does not exceed two years.

Troy Vincent, NFL EVP Football Operations, said, “This league-wide initiative paves the way for more international athletes to demonstrate that football has a place for everyone.”

NFL betting is the most popular sport to wager in the United States, and its popularity is growing around the globe.

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