Like other American sports leagues, the NFL has made a big push to expand its international fan base in recent years. The most notable effort has come with the numerous games played in London, though the league’s ambitions aren’t limited to Europe.
According to a report by Sportico (via Yahoo Sports), the league is formulating plans to allow all 32 teams to lay special claim to different international markets. The deals would grant them commercial exclusivity in those areas, which include the U.S.’s neighbors Canada and Mexico, as well as huge foreign markets like China.
For some teams, other North American areas make plenty of sense. The Buffalo Bills are cited as an example, with the inroads they have in nearby Toronto. Per the report, the Dallas Cowboys are “eyeing nearby markets in Mexico.” The league plans for revenue sharing for the money generated in these foreign markets, but at a lower rate than ticket revenue, making this a valuable opportunity for teams to try and lay claim and grow their fan bases in these new areas.
Per the most recent version of this “International Home Marketing Area (HMA) Initiative,” the league has its eyes on Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Mexico, and the United Kingdom to start, though other regions like Australia and Japan are mentioned by Sportico as potentially “hotly contested” areas.
— Sportico (@Sportico) September 9, 2021
Where some teams along the Northern and Southern border could look for logical geographic regions to tap into, others could follow a model closer to what the Jacksonville Jaguars have done in London. You could see teams seek out stronger cultural connections between ownership or home fan base and these new international areas.
Teams will also likely apply for regions where there are cultural connections, or connections via owners. The Rooney family, which owns the Pittsburgh Steelers, is an Irish-American family with strong ties to the country. (Former team executive Dan Rooney was the U.S ambassador to Ireland from 2009 to 2012). Both the Steelers and New England Patriots play in an areas with a large Irish-American population.
According to a 2020 survey cited in the report, Brazil has the most international NFL fans at 63.7 million, followed by Mexico (48.5), China (41.9) and Germany (19.2). The sport may not have the obvious international appeal of soccer, or even the broad fan bases of sports like baseball and basketball, which are incredibly popular in large areas of the world, but there is plenty of potential for American football to make inroads in every corner of the world, and the NFL is taking an interesting approach here.
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