Since 2005, the NFL has hosted at least one regular season game outside of the United States in a series known as the “NFL International Series”. To date, NFL games have been played in Mexico City (x1), London (x7), and Toronto (x5). The most recent game was played this last Sunday at Wembley Stadium in London, England. London will host one more regular season game this year on October 27, making it the eighth time the NFL has played in England. It has recently been confirmed that the Jacksonville Jaguars will play as the home team at Wembley once a year until 2016.
The NFL has been pushing hard for more international awareness in recent years. From the span of mid-September through mid-October, all NFL fields display the “NFL Futbol Americano” logo in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Although efforts like this may show an increase in international demand for NFL games, they are not necessarily bringing in foreign talent, however. In fact, among professional sports in the United States, the NFL ranks last when it comes to the number of foreign-born athletes. Only 2.5% of active roster players in the NFL were born outside of the U.S. That percentage is extremely low when compared to the MLB and the NBA, which are 34.5% and 22.8%, respectively.
There are some who believe that a foreign NFL expansion team is on the horizon. According to an article in The Independent, London would be a serious contender for such an expansion. In fact Roger Maslin, the Managing Director of Wembley Stadium, has said, “If they were bringing it anywhere in the world, we want it here”. London would actually be one of the few places internationally that is immediately NFL-ready. The fan base is there, the stadium is there (as Wembley Stadium has a capacity of 90,000, which is even larger than the 70,700 average capacity among NFL stadiums), and the financial viability is there. On paper, it appears as though London is in prime position to one day receive its own NFL expansion team.
If that were to happen, not only will the international fan base skyrocket but potential worldwide revenue could do the same. There are some who disagree, however. According to sports business expert Simon Chadwick, “The NFL is one of those sports that is deeply socio-culturally embedded -- it is quintessentially American, which means it only has limited appeal outside its core markets” Whether the NFL would succeed with a permanent international presence is to be speculated. As for me, the more worldwide appreciation for the game of American football the better.