Analysis: NFL wants to make football more popular than futbol globally

By Rob Maaddi

NEW YORK (AP) — The king of American sports wants to take over the world.

The NFL’s desire to become a global powerhouse is no secret. Growing the brand internationally was a major theme brought up this week at the league meetings.

It started with the official announcement that flag football will be part of the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. That’s a big victory for the NFL, which worked hard to grow the sport’s popularity and pushed for its inclusion.

“That is an exciting development for us, one that we think will bring a lot of momentum and excitement for fans to participate in the game on a global basis,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “So, that is really a great thing for us.

“Flag football has been growing dramatically here in the States, but as well as internationally. It’s brought young women into the sport and given them a chance to play, which I think is incredibly valuable to our future and rewarding. I think now to put it on the Olympic stage is really a seal of approval. Frankly, it’s going to be a stage that I think a lot of athletes are going to want to participate, including former or current NFL players. And so, we’ll have to work through all that, but I think it’s a great opportunity for the athletes. I think it’s a great opportunity for the NFL, and I think it’ll be a great opportunity for people to understand football and what it brings to the world.”

The league has long viewed flag football as a catalyst for its international strategy. It’s an inclusive sport that creates more opportunities to attract new fans through participation.

Young flag football players across the world now can dream of representing their country in the Olympics. So, more kids will come to know the NFL because of flag football. And, the league is embracing the idea of allowing current NFL players or former players to participate in flag football in the Olympics.

“That pathway to a podium, which starts to change how a country is thinking about investing in a sport, committing to and getting more girls and boys involved in a sport, that’s a positive thing in terms of our sport around the world,” said Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s executive vice president for club business, and international and league events. “And we know that if you have a ball in your hands, if you are playing our game, that brings you closer to the game and creates more fans around the world. But you have that aspiration and that pinnacle now, and not only in the countries where we have offices and a presence, but national Olympic committees around the world will take notice.”

In December 2021, the NFL began awarding teams international home marketing rights in different countries. Now, 21 clubs are participating in the global markets program across 14 countries. Giving teams access to international territories for marketing, fan engagement and commercialization only helps build fan growth for the NFL.

“Of course, internationally, we see opportunities,” Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said.

Irsay’s Colts will play the New England Patriots in Germany on Nov. 12 in the NFL’s fifth and final international game of this season. London already hosted three games and Germany has two.

The league will play two games in London next year, at least one in Germany and one potentially in Brazil or Spain. Mexico isn’t an option again in 2024 because the football stadium, Estadio Azteca, that’s previously hosted NFL games will still be undergoing renovations ahead of the 2026 Soccer World Cup. France is another country that could host a game in the future. Australia is being considered.

Another way the league draws interest globally is through international players in the NFL. In September, the league expanded the practice squad to 17 players for 2024 to include one international player. That gives talented football players around the world opportunities to be identified and developed.

“We’re feeling the momentum not just on the fan side but the football side,” O’Reilly said.

The NFL’s ultimate goal, of course, is to make even more money. The league’s 32 teams brought in a total revenue of approximately $18.6 billion in 2022, according to

“I believe if we push hard we should be able to gross $50 billion in a year,” Irsay said.

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