The NFL returns to London twice over the next two weeks, starting with Week 7’s Bills–Jaguars game and wrapping up its three-game 2015 International Series with Chiefs–Lions the following Sunday, but the league’s efforts to expand its reach abroad are never far from the headlines, even after the games end. This week, the NFL extended its deal to play regular-season games in London through 2020, and Mexico and Germany have been rumored as sites for international games in 2016. Looking even further into the future, 2022 has reportedly been put up by the league as the target year for a full-time team in London.
In this week’s NFL roundtable, our writers and editors weigh in on what we’ll see from the NFL outside the U.S. in the coming seven years, and whether or not those moves will culminate in a franchise abroad.
Don Banks: Will the NFL’s plans for global domination be complete by 2022? Hardly. But that doesn’t mean the league won’t keep expanding its international footprint in the coming seven years. This is, after all, the NFL, where the arrow always points in the direction of more. So there will be more London games, more games in other countries like Germany, Mexico, Brazil, Spain and perhaps Australia, and more chatter about the eventuality of full-time franchises in foreign capitals.
Not that I’m buying that last part. I’ve always been skeptical that the NFL will ever surmount the significant hurdles that international franchises would present, and that means getting creative in terms of how to expand the league’s profile abroad without basing a team there. The most logical approach I’ve heard of would be to have London play host to eight to 10 games a season, in effect giving fans in England a full slate of home games that would be rotated among the NFL’s 32 teams, rather than sticking the city with a weaker, relocated franchise that didn’t quite cut it in its own U.S. market. (And, yes, Jacksonville, we are looking in your direction.)
Even better, by 2022 the idea that the league could adopt a 19-week, 17-game regular-season schedule that accommodates eight home games, eight road games, two bye weeks and one international game per club could very well gain traction as the most plausible solution. The NFL would sprinkle those games around the world, with the vast majority of them in Europe, and in effect create an international presence that would have season-long staying power. Only then would the NFL get a fuller picture of how deep the appetite for the game is across the globe.
Greg Bedard: Seven years from now? Basically the same place, with London games and then a few other spot international games before targeting other specific European cities to start the process of lining up a possible European division. Thinking Madrid, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Rome. Maybe Dublin. Make no mistake, the NFL will have a European division at some point. The only question is when.
Chris Burke: Well, there's no doubt that the NFL will be playing multiple games in England. The only question at this point is if those games come from sending a handful of teams over once each per year or if there will be a permanent franchise or two there. From a logistics standpoint I still see far too many problems with basing franchises in Europe, so I'll lean toward the former system.
Beyond that, there at least will be preseason games played outside the states. Germany and Mexico reportedly are in contention for a game in 2016, so it’s safe to consider those countries, but I highly doubt that is all. Australia? South Africa? Japan? The possibilities are almost endless, which is exactly how the NFL wants it.
The next frontier, shy of moving a team overseas, is for the league to have multiple non-U.S. games on the same day. I think that’s going to happen at some point. An “NFL: Around the World” showcase.
Melissa Jacobs: By 2022, Roger Goodell will fulfill his goal of a full-time franchise in London. This is a legacy play for the commissioner, so despite the inherent challenges, this gets done, even if the television contract is ultimately less than ideal from a financial perspective. (As of now, the league’s current deal with Sky Sports has been kept under wraps in terms of cost and revenue.)
Over the next six years, I believe the league adds to its schedule in London, perhaps even growing to an eight-game schedule to prep for the ebbs and flows of a permanent franchise’s home schedule. The league will never move its Thursday night marquee kickoff game to London but could add a second opening day game as an opening act of sorts to the main event. Teams involved have an extra three days to recover. Then the league moves up bye weeks to begin in Week 2 and schedules its London games accordingly. No traumatic effect on any particular team. That full slate of home games will at least mentally pave the way for a permanent franchise overseas, which will come from the current pool of teams and be called ...
The London Jaguars.
Bette Marston: As tempting as it is to envision the Jaguars and their international owner permanently across the pond, subjecting them to constant jet lag as they fly back and forth for games (or forcing them to spend long stints of the season in a hotel in the U.S., playing several away games in a row), it’s unlikely that the NFL will work out the logistics to fully support a team in another country. On top of that, the chances of a team willingly agreeing to play their home games in front of a crowd not incredibly familiar with the game is slim.
However, it’s no secret that Roger Goodell has money on the mind, and placing games all across Europe will reap benefits. Not only will regular-season NFL games continue to be played in London, but they’ll be scheduled all across Europe by the end of this decade. Paris, Berlin and Madrid, just to name a few, will be among the NFL’s top target cities.
In 2022, the first NFL game in South America will be on the schedule, held in Rio de Janeiro at the Maracanã stadium, the location of the 2014 World Cup final.
Eric Single: The same snarky comments follow the NFL’s schedule release ceremony almost every year: “We’re sending those sorry teams to London? What’d England ever do to us?” And while the constant presence of the Jaguars certainly messes with the curve, the sentiment should be a big hurdle for the NFL in the next seven years, no matter where in the world it takes its product.
Of the 12 London games played so far, only half ended within 10-point margins, and far fewer than that were generally praised for their quality of play. At some point between now and 2022, you would think the novelty of NFL football on European soil will wear off as international fans realize the huge gap between the pillow fight they see a handful of times a year in person and the sharp drama of the league’s best games on a weekly basis. Relocating the Jaguars may not do much to counter that generalization.
Did the league get a little unlucky when the Dolphins, Lions and Chiefs nosedived to start this season? Sure. But part of this series involves playing the lottery on which games will deliver on their stated billing, and the series organizers don’t seem like they’ve been trying too hard to draw up the type of canned intrigue America gets on most of its primetime NFL broadcasts.
Don't be surprised if the NFL pushes to send defending Super Bowl champions or pairs of marquee quarterbacks more consistently to try to keep the momentum going in international games down the road. By 2022, I expect to see the league rolling the dice with matchups on par with today’s Patriots–Colts or Ravens–Steelers tilts. They might still turn out to be ugly games, but the league will get points for trying.