Although the NFL is an American league that plays an American sport, its international presence has been increasing throughout recent years. Since 2007, the league has been playing an International Series, where there are regular season games hosted outside the Unites States.
Previous to this International Series, the only international play was through the American Bowl. The first regular season game to be held outside the United States was in Mexico City, Mexico, where the Cardinals beat the 49ers in 2005. Since then, the NFL wanted a way to continue playing these international games, which eventually let to the NFL’s International Series.
The first regular season game to be played outside of North America was in 2007, when the Dolphins hosted the Giants at Wembley Stadium in London, England. In 2007 through 2012, the NFL hosted one game a year in Wembley Stadium. In 2013, Wembley Stadium saw two NFL games, which was doubled in 2014. In 2015, there were three games played in England.
This year marks a new benchmark in football as in 2015, the NFL announced that they would be hosting regular season games at Twickenham Stadium between 2018 and 2027, having at least five games in London in at least three different venues — Wembley Stadium, Twickenham Stadium and the Spurs’ new Stadium in Northumberland Park.
This year there there are four NFL games being played outside the U.S. On Oct. 2, the Jaguars hosted the Colts at Wembley Stadium, winning the game 30-27. Three weeks later, on Oct. 23, the Rams hosted the Giants at Twickenham Stadium, falling 17-10. The next week, the Bengals hosted the Redskins at Wembley Stadium, tying 27-27. These games finished out the 2017 NFL games in London, with the last game scheduled for Nov. 21 where the Raiders will host the Texans in the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. This will be the first game in the International Series to be played in Mexico since the American Bowl sent NFL teams out of the United States.
Although these NFL games played overseas may seem like a hassle to us here in the States, they are bringing American football to a whole new audience. According to ESPN, with the exception of the Cowboys, the average attendance at NFL games maxes out at 78,000. These International Series games see an average attendance of around 83,000, which is 5,000 more than the most populated games in the continental U.S.
Having the NFL on an international playing field gives people who have never been exposed to a live game with the opportunity to watch the sport and develop a love for it. With the expansion of this series to Mexico and to two other stadiums within London, it broadens the fan base and gives more people the opportunity to come and see these athletes perform. Not only this, but it generates more income to the NFL with the higher game attendance overseas.
With the International Series expanding this year, they are looking into other stadiums in different countries to host games in this series, having the ability to bring the NFL to more potential fans. It doesn’t end there though, as the NFL is looking into having a team that has a hometown of London.
This would be something that has never been done before, but would undoubtedly expand the NFL’s fan base and give them a more international presence. American football is one of the few sports that does not have an international league or as big of an interest in other countries and the International Series is just a stepping stone to changing this.