The NFL announced its plans for global domination earlier this week. Well that’s a slight overstatement, but in efforts to grow the game to hit their lofty revenue goals, the NFL announced further international expansion by hoping to schedule games in both China and Germany. This is a shift in the NFL’s previous expansion strategy which focused more on multiple games in the United Kingdom, but the NFL knows it can’t fall behind other U.S. based leagues that are expanding outside of our borders.
The only real risk is that the NFL is attempting this at too fast of a rate. The NFL already tried to schedule a game in China. The New England Patriots even opened a temporary team office there. Nothing ever happened. The game scheduled in China was pulled and the NFL regrouped in what could be the strategy we are seeing employed today. The Rams will supposedly play in China in 2018, and it makes more sense for the NFL to use a team in a large market on the Pacific ocean for China’s team. China is the proverbial holy grail for every professional sport due to its burgeoning wealth and sheer population. If the NFL is serious about China, it must not fail in 2018.
Germany makes more sense. The country was the biggest success story of NFL Europa in terms of driving fans to games. It’s a fiscally stable country where middle-class fans will be interested in the game. It’s a wonder why it took so long for the NFL to return, but the focus was on games in London and not the European mainland.
The NFL is also looking toward the south in its own hemisphere. The league will feature a game in Mexico City in 2016 — Raiders v. Texans –, and there have been rumblings of the league looking into Brazil as a potential market as well. All of this creates a concern that the league is doing too much, too fast. The reason London has been a success is that the NFL has taken the time to cultivate and educate those fans. That’s why expansion into Germany makes sense because fans know the game. China and especially Brazil are going to be slightly more difficult.
If anyone knows how to garner fan attention its the NFL. We’ll see how their second attempt at China and their new international expansion plans fare in the upcoming years.
Michael Colangelo is Managing Editor of The Fields of Green and Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute.