Within a span of days, the NFL struck deals with its major partners — the players association and the TV networks — that will ensure the league remains fat and happy for the next decade plus. All this coming off a pandemic season in which the NFL sold very few tickets, scheduled a full season, and played every one of them.
With labor peace and $100 billion coming their way over the remainder of the decade and then some, professional football has run out of mountains to climb in America. And so now the National Football League has its sights on world domination.
In his latest MMQB column, Albert Breer details how the league’s international strategy will change in the 2020s.
For starters, the league has reduced its focus on the United Kingdom, and primarily London, as its epicenter for international expansion. International games were played almost exclusively in London through the 2010s, and for a while the league had a stated goal of placing or moving a team there.
Now, with new management heading the league’s international efforts, the NFL is actively exploring Germany as a second hub for European operations.
“What we’re looking to do is look at the viability and really the best choice of market and partner to manage games in Germany,” Brett Gosper, head of the NFL’s European operations, told the site. “That could be as early as 2022. No decisions yet, but we’ll try to reach a conclusion of that project either late this year or early next year to be able to actually announce where we’re going, if we’re going to Germany at that point in time. So I think once we engage in that process it’s a pretty strong indication that’s what we want to be for one of the games.
“And there’s already some interested partners showing themselves even before we’ve begun the process. So it’s very exciting.”
This all makes perfect sense.
By the time the operation folded in 2007, five of the six NFL Europe teams were located in Germany. League data found more Germans traveled to the NFL’s London games than anywhere else in continental Europe and — how’s this for a flex? — the NFL is more widely-watched in Germany than the NHL is… in America.
Coupled with the fact that Germany has produced multiple NFL players and it’s clear why the league has its eyes on Deutschland.
After England, Germany and Mexico, the NFL’s next destinations are Canada and Brazil. League executives told Breer they love the idea of staging games in Asia and Australia in theory, but it would be difficult to pull off in practice due to all the time changing involved. (This, by the way, is why I thought the NFL would adopt a second off week in moving to a 17-game schedule, thereby putting the entire globe in play.)
But the NFL is still interested in spreading its brand all over the world, even if it can’t play games on every corner of the planet.
As Breer reports, the league will soon open the bidding on the entire planet. What that means is, in America the Detroit Lions, for example, are forbidden from marketing themselves outside the Greater Detroit area, for obvious reasons. But the rest of the world has no “home” teams, and so the Lions (or the Bears, or the Browns, etc.) could soon bid to make themselves the “official” home team of France.
Teams will have to have a detailed plan for what they’ll do (marketing, youth outreach, partnering with soccer teams, etc.), and why they should be awarded the market. The goal, Halpin says, is to, over time, assign about six teams to the league’s major international markets (they’ll be bidding on entire countries, not parts of it), and have those teams’ efforts complement one another.
“So Team A will come forward and say, ‘I will have this level of player trips, I’ll do a youth football camp, I’ll co-market with the local soccer team or whatever, and I may build a facility there,’ ” Halpin said. “‘I can then sell sponsorships so I can extend my airline or hotel partnerships to Germany, so they can generate revenue to cover those investments and in a host of other things.’ All we care about on this is fan development. This isn’t dollars and cents [for the league office] in the grand scheme of things.”
All in all it’s a fascinating look at the league’s plan to export the most American of all American products (sorry, baseball) to a global market with little to no familiarity with the game.