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?