NFL sure does think playing games in London is a good idea, and maybe Mexico and Brazil, too

The NFL’s get-Brits-to-watch-American-football marketing juggernaut runs on, with the league announcing yesterday that it will play between three and five regular-season games at Twickenham Stadium, London’s 106-year-old home of the national rugby team. (Though it’s been largely rebuilt in phases over that time. The stadium, not the rugby team. Well, both.)

On top of two games a year at Wembley Stadium and two at the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium, this will make at least five NFL games a year in London, which would seem to indicate that the league is trying to build a fan base for eventually placing a team there full-time. Or maybe not — as Deadspin notes, the London onslaught (thought I was going to say “blitz” there, didn’t you?) is part of a general campaign to bring in new NFL fans overseas, because how else are you going to expand your product?

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.

I still don’t expect to see a London NFL team anytime soon, though I suppose the problem of finding an NFL owner who wants to deal with the headaches of trans-Atlantic travel would be mitigated somewhat if the league made it an expansion franchise. I bet they could get at least $2 billion for that, right? What’s that in old shillings?

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27 comments on “NFL sure does think playing games in London is a good idea, and maybe Mexico and Brazil, too

  1. When the English Premier League wanted to play regular season game in expanding markets (including the US) the fans reacted very clearly and strongly that they did not want any of it. They were the ones inconvenienced by playing “home” games thousands of miles away at inconvenient times. The ubiquity of Supporter’s Trusts in the UK probably played a role (fans getting organized and getting part ownership with a voice in real financial decisions) in the protest.

    I am just so surprised that NFL fans, you know the ones that show up at NFL stadium dog-and-pony shows, let them take so many games away from them. Why is it that stadiums are so sacred when they are being built, so sacred as a symbol of pride and prestige in the abstract when planning them, and not so sacred when they are actually going to be the physical home field? Somebody is home games and convenient TV viewing with all these ventures.

  2. The last sentence was a throwaway but should be: “Somebody is losing home games and convenient TV viewing with all these ventures”.

  3. I just don’t see it catching on in any significant way, especially in large swaths of the developing world, where the nature of football precludes impoverished nations from even affording the equipment necessary to have football. Comparitively all the major sports, with the exception of hockey, require minimal to no significant equipment investment besides a ball, a bat maybe, and something vaguely resembling a goal or a hoop.

  4. I don’t think there’s better evidence that the NFL has a failure on its hands in Jacksonville than an agreement to play in London every year. Not sure keeping the scoreboard updated or any other absurd expenditure down there is going to make Jacksonville a viable professional sports market.

    Many will make Shahid Khan’s ownership of Fulham Football Club a “reason”–but in fact he’s lived in the US for a long time.

    Agree on the supporters clubs. However, a lot of the TV marketing of the English Premier League (as an example) rides on the “authentic” nature of the fan culture in England, which would not really be replicated in a meaningful way in Los Angeles or Bangkok. Not sure the NFL fan has the same international marketing credibility.

  5. The London thing I take as evidence that the NFL realizes it’s stadium shell game in the US is running out of steam (and yes, I know, all current evidence to the contrary… point taken). It isn’t “over”, but the parasites in chief certainly have to realize that they are running out of host cities to feed on. At some point if they start accepting lesser offers or non-gold plated tax payer funded facilities, they must surely realize that they will never again be offered solid gold toilets, for example. Eventually, all parasites kill their host. The most successful keep the host alive, in some gruesome form, for as long as possible.

    Los Angeles’ “absence” of NFL football has been a huge boon to their subsidy demands. Unlike many, I don’t really believe that LA is about to be taken off the table as a threat (by putting an actual team there), but it is possible that something (a stadium) will happen within the next five to ten years.

    Let’s not forget that the NFL has staged games in Mexico before, as well as Japan and Toronto (which is not a country, though sometimes…).

    IMO, it’s not about anything except creating the illusion of demand. That’s why they’ve never hesitated to paper the houses for international games when ticket sales were slow – they legitimately don’t care if they lose truckloads of money on these games, so long as they can make small markets fearful of losing “their” franchise, it will pay off in the long run.

    NFL Europe (or the German Football League, as some of us called it) was most successful in Germany, but that is very much relative. The league still lost vast sums, even when all but one of it’s franchises was located in Germany. The suspicion remains that a high percentage of the paying fans attending weren’t actual Europeans, but American service men and women stationed in Germany

    Is selling your product to existing customers that are temporarily out of the country really growth?

  6. The NFL , mLB , & to some lesser degree NBA and NHL all have business models based on huge public subsidies starting at school districts up to free stadiums. Don’t see how a investors in capitalistic Europe would ever be able to compete.

  7. I can see the how the international series moderately successful, but 5 games in a season surprises me. Of course there are always one or two teams claiming their stadium is insufficient and thus OK with moving a home game, but 5? This, for me in Colorado, means the Broncos will start asking for redevlopment money in the next few years.

    Floormaster Squeeze- I and other soccer fans have found for awhile now that early games are a great way to start a weekend day, and I am not surprised when I listen to sports radio to hear hosts and callers say the same thing about the early London games.

  8. Because England is so small it’s pretty common for fans to travel to away matches. The same isn’t true in the NFL — Washington and Dallas are fierce rivals but Washingtonians don’t hop on a plane to go to Dallas to see the game there. They watch it on TV. A game in London looks pretty much the same on TV as a game in Dallas.

  9. I’ve always thought the most logical solution in order to get a team in London is to move an entire division across the pond. Just take the entire AFC south or whatever and put it in western Europe. That would alleviate the travel concerns, because each team would have 8 home games plus 3 road games against their own division, which would be entirely in Europe. That’s only 5 other road games they’d have to play in the states. It would mean each team would host 5 US-based teams a year, so there’d be 20 trips to split up between the other 28 teams. But that’s way more fair than having 1 team across the Atlantic all by itself.

  10. I wonder with the number of teams that have specific performance clauses in their leases how many teams would be able to give up a home game. Jacksonville was willing to allow the Jags to move one game because the other option was losing 10. So unless you are Miami or NY who self-financed the stadium I am not sure too many teams can get away with it. As a Browns season ticket holder I am more than happy to give up our preseason games though.

  11. “The NFL , mLB , & to some lesser degree NBA and NHL all have business models based on huge public subsidies starting at school districts…”

    Be fair, Steven – if you’re gonna take it that far you can’t just ignore the hundreds of thousands of publicly owned acres devoted to soccer fields.

  12. I think Shahid Khan sees the Jaguars as an investment instead of a franchise. With that said, he isn’t investing much into the team in Jacksonville though he is hoping that somebody else would buy the team from him in a few years. Yes he is playing games in London, but it is only because he has interests in the area. Translation, he might end up selling the team for a profit.

  13. I think the NFL will find more resistance as they try to move more games out of the U.S. One of the biggest arguments against NFL stadium financing is because it is only for ten days. Now they want to make it nine in many cities?

    If a city was smart, they would at least require all games to be played in their city for the lease.

    Even the city of Memphis (not the most well run city) was smart enough to do this with the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies can’t even host a preseason game in Nashville or St. Louis because their lease requires them to play all home games at FedExForum.

  14. I hear they are only going to put a Raiders scrimmage game in Mexico. You know, to maximize profits.

  15. To be fair Keith let’s compare apples to apples. A school in US doesn’t get built without a football stadium , baseball park , and basketball gym with bleachers. That’s not going to happen in Europe. If there are soccer fields its because the participation and demand forced the issue.

  16. So is it even about the game anymore? Or is this a strategic path by pro sports entities to continue to grow into taxpayer subsidized behemoth’s that utilize non-profit status to survive, with little regard for what they originally stood for (a sports league for competition)?

  17. Floormaster: You hit the nail on the head. These silly “Supporters’ Trusts” (a.k.a. protectionist goons) don’t exist in the US, and boy are we ever blessed to be able to say that. Same reason that I can wake up Sunday morning, decide to go to an NFL game and buy a ticket through StubHub, but can’t do the equivalent for a BPL game.

  18. In America, the rich as well as the poor have the right to outbid other people for sports tickets.

  19. Ben, what are you talking about? In your haste to make a political comment (I guess) you happen to be completely wrong. Stubhub sells tickets to the English Premier League just like every other sport.

    And we do have “supporters trusts.” In fact, one owns the Green Bay Packers.

  20. That is true, Neil. But when the price of the tickets represents just half of the real world cost to operate the business thanks to taxpayer subsidies on the stadium side, I would argue that those wealthy enough to buy the tickets are actually receiving yet another form of welfare for the rich.

  21. GDub: Pointed arguments in favour of right wing (at least as currently constituted) politics do tend to be short on facts across the board… or as in this case, quote facts that turn out to be utterly fabricated.

  22. John: Actually it was an ironic Anatole France reference. You know, “the rich and poor alike have the right to sleep under bridges”?

    Anyway, I think you have the independent and dependent variables backwards: In an essentially monopolistic market, team owners are still going to raise prices as far as possible, regardless of subsidies. The benefit doesn’t go to fans so much as to owners and (to the degree that players’ unions can demand it) players.

  23. “A school in US doesn’t get built without a football stadium ,…”

    And it’s a shame those football stadiums are –never– made available for playing other sports that require similar-sized rectangular fields.

    “But when the price of the tickets represents just half of the real world cost to operate the business thanks to taxpayer subsidies on the stadium side, I would argue that those wealthy enough to buy the tickets are actually receiving yet another form of welfare for the rich.”

    I’ve tried similar arguments before and Neil has pointed out the flaw in my logic. Facility costs to the team may be less thanks to subsidies, but the tickets cost what the market will bear. Attendees may get a somewhat nicer stadium than if teams built their own, but owners and players get most of the benefit from the subsidy.

  24. In a country like England where franchises are treated like the plague (just ask MK Dons) I don’t think an NFL franchise will fly.

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