Globalization Of The NFL

One of the most pressing and challenging issues within the National Football League (NFL) regarding global leadership is how to expand the league internationally and gain global acceptance of the sport of American football like that of soccer, track and field and other sports in which professional level teams/athletes compete in all major countries of the world.

It seems evident that the NFL and league commissioner Roger Goddell have plans of expansion into international markets in the near future, but a lot of factors such as revenue, labor, media and environmental issues need to be considered when implementing such a drastic move in order to ensure the success of international expansion. With the NFL’s creation of the “International Series” at least two teams have traveled to play a game in London every year over the last several years in what seems to be an attempt to build a strong fan base.

It is said that the plan is for the NFL to field a team in London by the year 2022 as the first game of the 15-year plan for expansion was in 2007 (Breer, 2015). The NFL and Roger Goodell have plans to go from a $10 billion dollar empire to $25 billion dollar empire by 2027 and in order to do so, he and the league feel it is necessary to expand into global markets such as Canada, Mexico and England. Though it seems London is the first stop in Goodell’s master plan for international expansion as this is where the “International Series” games have been played most in recent years.

“It will be the London Whatevers versus the New York Giants,” said Goodell.

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Roger Goodell

In order to make international league expansion a reality, several obstacles stand in the way and Goodell himself is the first to admit it though he suggests that logistics can be worked out. “The logistics we can work out,” said Goodell at an NYU conference in 2013. Some of those logistics include where to play, when will games be played, immigration/work laws and tax laws (Schalter, 2013). Considering London will be the first place for the NFL’s international expansion the team’s home location must be considered.

London’s Wembley Stadium doesn’t seem to be a viable option as it is widely used by other professional organizations. It is a large venue that supports a large fan base that the NFL didn’t have in its failed attempt of having a developmental league team there (London Monarchs). Olympic Stadium is a much better fit, but will be used on Sundays for professional soccer events in the fall which pretty much eliminates that stadium as well (Schalter, 2013).

So, would a stadium need to be built? If so, who and how would it be paid for? Would a new stadium being built affect that countries tax payers (if applicable) and to what extent? These are questions that would need to be addressed as part of figuring out this portion of the logistics of expanding the NFL into London. Scheduling would be the next concern as it relates to viewers of the games in the United States. The games would need to not be scheduled at the same time as soccer events held during the same time of year.

The biggest concern is that American football doesn’t currently have the same appeal for the European fan as that of soccer, so at this point, it would not be a wise decision to compete directly with a sport that is accepted by more fans.

“We’re not trying to replace soccer or cricket. What we’re trying to do is take our rightful place in one of the most important global sports markets anywhere in the world,” said NFL CEO Tod Leiweke.

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Tod Leiweke

Then there is an issue of scheduling for viewers here in the United States when thinking of the difference in time zones. Since European time zones are ahead of those in the United States, fans in the U.S. would have to view games much earlier than the traditional times of 1 pm and 4 pm associated with NFL games on Sundays. This potentially could affect the fan base of a team in London or Europe as it would be extremely new to the American market to try to watch a game at 8 am on a Sunday morning.

Next, would be to consider how international tax laws and immigration would affect players and team staff. When considering free agency and trades or other related business decisions that affected the on-field product, the front office would now have to take into account players unable to obtain passports and/or work visas. This could ultimately limit the potential for this international team to sign a franchise player or several role players that fit the playing scheme which decreases the potential for success. With regard to taxes, currently players in the NFL have to withhold taxes for each state that they play in and this would seem to decrease earned income if more taxes needed to be withheld for playing in another country.

One would have to think about what would the NFL do in order to remedy an “increase” in taxes on income for players and staff. One of the biggest reasons for global expansion is to increase revenue for the NFL which could be leveraged in several aspects such as league expansion fees and the rights to television deals.

When the league expanded in 2002, the Houston Texans franchise fee was 700 million dollars and that number could easily be over a billion dollars for a team today. In considering the international market, areas outside of the United States are a gold mine of untapped potential for fans of not only the team, but the league as a whole. With an increase in fans or league supporters, increases in revenue can come pretty easily. Simply put more fans equal more league wide revenue, as each new fan will be a new consumer through ticket purchases, concessions and league paraphernalia.

The NFL has no wish to compete with other major sports leagues, but rather to co­-exist and create a global platform which will benefit the game itself. Bigger fan bases will develop from neighboring countries adding potential for even further expansion, an increase in the talent pool of participating athletes and continued development of international relationships through sport. All factors mentioned benefit not only the NFL but the world as a whole.

Worldwide expansion will be a great move for the NFL once all of the logistics are figured out and the team is fielded. Can you imagine in 25 years a Super Bowl played in Paris, France that is bigger than the World Cup of soccer or the top player in the NFL not being from the U.S. but Germany, or the mix of top talent from all the countries of the world in the draft?

According to NFL CEO Tod Leiweke, “There’s no reason why something like this shouldn’t work.”

Just the thought of the world coming together through sport excites me personally, especially through the sport I most admire and respect.

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