Taking America's Game to the World

>> Thursday

ESPN is reporting that the NFL is considering holding more regular season games outside the United States, stating that TV and the old American Bowl series worked well to introduce fans to America's game, but fans abroad are now ready for "the real thing." The league so far seems to have worked out one potential problem by arranging that teams returning from overseas play will have a bye week the following week. There's still a couple issues left to be resolved.

Will every team play a game abroad each season?
-If yes, will teams still play an equal number of home/away games or increase to a 17-game schedule? I can't imagine the Packers would be too pleased to play 8 road games, 7 games at Lambeau, and 1 at Wembley Stadium.

-If no, how does that shake out in terms of playoff races that are often determined on tiebreakers? If I missed the playoffs because a team I was tied with had a friendlier schedule that didn't include a trip halfway around the world to China or Germany, I'd be pretty pissed off.

Is the NFL willing to play games midweek?
- The host stadiums, especially in Europe, are likely to be soccer stadiums. Matchday is traditionally Saturday or Sunday, with many leagues (including the Champions League) holding games midweek on a Wednesday or Tuesday. Would the NFL be willing to have "Monday Night Football" air at 2 in the afternoon?

Will the NFL have control of dates?
- Unlikely. Many fields in Europe are pristine manicured grass carpets. I can't imagine many clubs would invite the NFL in for one game that could very well rip up the turf and paint "CHARGERS" and "REDSKINS" in giant letters in the endzones. Then again, for the right price, I guess anything is possible.

Is there really that big of a market?
Last season, NFL Europe drew an average attendance of 18,000. That's more or less what MLS average attendance is. I suppose NFLE is minor league, and the real deal could bring out the expats. Just like when MLS invites high-profile foreign clubs in mid-summer.

If the NFL wants to do this right, here's what I think needs to be laid down.
1.) NO "top flight" stadiums whatsoever, especially in Europe. If the NFL really wants to do this without taking a huge financial loss (renting out a giant stadium, and selling too few tickets to fill it), I'd recommend taking it to second-flight stadiums or the bottom of the top-flights. That means no games at Wembley or Old Trafford or the San Siro in Milan. The mid-sized clubs are more desperate for revenue, and would likely take whatever the NFL has to offer. Not to mention that 15,000 people in a 25,000 seat stadium looks a hell of a lot better and creates more atmosphere than 15,000 people at the Olympiastadion in Berlin (Capacity 76,000). Yes, NFL Europe plays in premier venues, but their season is in the summer, during the football (round ball) offseason, and has been bleeding money for years.

If the NFL wants a more famous/larger stadium for TV that's a tad bigger capacity and maybe in a more glamorous locale, I'd suggest grounds that don't have regular tenants, like Twickenham Stadium in London, or Croke Park in Dublin, both famous rugby stadiums. There you'd have an easier time setting up dates, and tearing up the field without anyone getting too pissed.

2.) I like the teams coming back from abroad get their bye week rule.

3.) There has to be a rule about teams being from the same time zone, especially if say, the team flies out on Thursday and plays on Sunday (keeping in mind that football (pointy ball) practice facilities abroad would be...limited, to be generous).

If the 49ers play the Patriots at the Tokyo Dome in Japan or at Hampden Park in Glasgow, I don't think you need me to figure out which team is going to be 3 hours more jet-lagged.

4.) Make the tickets cheap, even dirt cheap, like 15 Euros (about $20-25). You're asking a lot of people to try something new that they've never seen before. A side effect of this is you will have more butts in seats, which leads to more concessions and souvenier revenue.

5.) Play SOME games in North America that are easy to get to for American fans. Have the Raiders play in Vancouver. Have the Jets play in Toronto. Have the Cowboys play at the Azteca in Mexico City.

6.) A system has to be established in terms of when teams go abroad, whether that's every team goes once a year, or every other year, or whatever, so fans know how many home dates are going to be in their season ticket package.

7.) It wouldn't hurt if NFL teams were to partner with Orbitz or travel agencies or something like that to make travel to these new exotic locales feasible for the hometown fans.

8.) NO DIVISIONAL GAMES PLAYED ABROAD. PERIOD.

9.) The NFL sets the sites in advance, and the 32 teams have no control over the sites or dates. For instance, the NFL comes out at the end of every season and says, "Next season we'll hold 8 regular season games abroad, in Sydney, Mexico City, London, Madrid, Dublin, Glasgow, Tokyo, and Paris. Teams, dates, and times TBA." That shouldn't be too hard.

I wouldn't want to see teams scheduling games based on what might suit their advantage, like say, the Dolphins or Bucs scheduling a November game for themselves in Sydney or at the Bombonera in Buenos Aires, getting one more warm-weather game in (where it would be late spring). Likewise, I wouldn't want to see the Bears or Patriots scheduling a September game against the Chargers in Moscow. This goes down to even things like teams picking stadiums not known for their care of the turf to gain an advantage (Stamford Bridge in London comes to mind).

10.) Gridiron lines should be laid down with minimal intrusion on the stadium's primary purpose, be that soccer or rugby. This rule isn't borne out of my love for soccer, just good business sense. It's unlikely that stadiums would invite the NFL back if they had to play with "BRONCOS" in giant letters or green paint in the exact shape of the Carolina Panthers logo across their field for the next month. That would end the worldwide experiment really fast.


If the NFL can abide by as many of these 10 concerns/solutions as possible, they should be in good shape, and I can't see how this could be a bad idea.

5 comments:

Patrick 5:04 PM  

Oh boo hoo...these players are getting paid millions for catching a fucking football (and in most cases, blocking). If the company that is paying these amounts of money wants to expand more globally, they not only should do it, they will do it. More exposure means more $$$ for the teams which means more $$$ for the players. Of course they won't see it this way, but thats reality.

And your example of NFL Europe is completely off base. The reason it doesn't sell well is because there are players like Mark Rypien playing over there. If you bring the best of the best, the fans will show up. Lets not forget the mexicans placking Aztec stadium last year.

This is a great idea as the NFL stands to make a ton of money...and they will be playing in those "good" stadiums. Owners only care about the bling bling, thats why they will gladly allow the NFL to use their facilities.

Patrick 5:07 PM  

Of course, the only reason I support this is because I wouldn'y give a damn whether the Bears played at home or not...I can't afford tickets anyways, so why not

Nathan 3:33 AM  

Sever, you of all people should know that money talks. If the NFL wants to move a soccer game so that they can bring hundreds of thousands of dollars into a city, believe me, they will get the soccer game moved.

...And for the record, no more of this football (pointy ball) shit. This blog is based out of America. Therefore, we have football and soccer. Not two kinds of football.

Mike 9:52 AM  

My suggested restriction on top stadiums is also based out of date availability. Big stadiums are home to big clubs who likely play in the Champions League. For instance, at the San Siro this week, Inter Milan was at home on Sunday in league play, at home on Wednesday in the Champions League, and AC Milan will play there at home on Saturday. Other big stadiums across Europe have similar situations. Likewise, big clubs have huge revenue streams coming in from these competitions (making what the NFL would offer for rent either a pittance, or too expensive to be worth the NFL's time when there are other options available). Likewise, in many instances, the club's performance in these competitions will determine their financial and competitive well-being in the future. They won't get the #1 pick in the draft if they suck. A field in bad condition could throw a game the wrong way, causing a team to miss out on lucrative Champions League competition, or could hurt their TV deals. Not saying it WILL, but there's other factors here. If it were as simple as just buying a club off to use their stadium, it probably would have been done already.

It's also not a matter of picking the big venues and just scheduling to avoid the busy weeks either. The Champions League draw isn't held until late August, so the league wouldn't be able to release a schedule until then. In my opinion, it's best to just avoid them all together. I hope I'm making sense here.

That's why I suggested small stadiums. Small stadiums (capacity 30-40,000 or so) are home to smaller clubs who are in danger not just of missing Champions League competition, but of being relegated to their minor leagues for poor performance, or going bankrupt. They could use the cash more, and the NFL would find negotiating terms very much in its favor. Why pay through the nose to play at the 80,000 seat BErnabeu in Madrid (home to Real Madrid) when you can play at the 50,000-seat stadium of mid-table club Atletico Madrid, probably on the cheap? In London, you could play at sparkling new Emirates Stadium(60,000), and have to negotiate around a crowded Arsenal schedule, or you could go a couple miles east and play at Upton Park (35,000) home of perennial underachievers West Ham United, who are desperate for money.

As for whether or not the fans come out? Who knows? They may very well come out to see this new-fangled American football. Regular season NFL games have never been done, so I'm no expert on this.

Other than NFL Europe, The closest comparison we have to widespread, regular football in Europe is NFL International Week, which took place in 1991. Three NFL preseason games were played in one week in London, Berlin, and Tokyo. The NFL's official website brags that 150,000 fans attended. Great, but the capacity of those three stadiums is 211,000, meaning that almost 30% of the seats were empty. Respectable attendance figures, (that's assuming no attendance inflation whatsoever) but those empty seats represent lost revenue (another reason for smaller stadiums and/or cheap tickets suggestion).

I don't want my suggestions to sound hostile to american football. I like the NFL and want it to succeed (that may surprise some of you) but I think that these are issues the league should take into consideration before jumping across the pond.

Vinnie 12:29 PM  

Whoa...someone's gunning for that job in the commish's office.

I think fairness, not just money, will be an important factor. I could see the NFL pissing off lots of fans who might think their team got screwed one season by what most Americans will perceive as a money-grab that hurts the American fans.

On a totally separate note, Pat--I can only assume that you're making some subliminal statement by not capitalizing "Mexicans."

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