The History of the NFL International Series

There are plenty of reasons why we all love American football. For some, it was catching a game on holiday in the States. For others, it was marvelling at this ‘new’ sport when it appeared on our television screens in the 1980s and 90s. But for many, it was formed after being able to watch the sport in the flesh – and in our own countries.

Many American football fans have taken that love of the game and taken up the sport themselves. We cover teams from all over the world and players that dream of making the leap from their country’s competition to the NFL. The NFL International Series has obviously been a huge influence on many people – even if the NFL betting odds may be harder to predict with teams playing so far away from home.

Here is a quick history of how the NFL International Series came about – and how it could develop in the future.

Exhibition Games

These days the players and fans of the NFL are well used to watching regular season games being played in other countries. But when football was only just taking off overseas, the American Bowl exhibition game was as good as it got. From 1986 to 2005, 40 such games were played in cities such as London, Tokyo, Berlin and Mexico City.

There had actually been games played outside the US since 1950. Thirteen exhibition games were played, mostly in Canada, up until 1983. These games came before the American Bowl banner was introduced but they did grow fan bases in cities and countries far from the teams’ origins.

The Start of the NFL International Series

After the success of the American Bowl exhibition games, new fans around the world were clamouring for regular season games to be played in their own cities. Mexico City was the host of the first ever such game – under the NFL Futbol Americano banner – when the Arizona Cardinals beat the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 31-14 in 2005.

But it was two years later that the first NFL International Series games began in London. The Giants beat the Dolphins and the first 40,000 tickets for the game sold out in just 90 minutes. From 2007 to 2015, Wembley Stadium hosted at least one NFL regular season game every year, providing fans a chance to cheer on their favourite teams without having to travel to the US.

Other stadiums in the UK were used from 2016 and the NFL signed multi-year deals to schedule more games every year. It became commonplace for three or four games to be played in London over consecutive weeks at the beginning of the regular season.

Series Expansion

The NFL had already started using different stadiums in London. But in 2016, American football also returned to Mexico. This time under the NFL International Series banner, the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City hosted regular season games – and has continued to do so each season.

In 2022 the league finally included an NFL International Series game in Germany. The country had consistently recorded high viewership for NFL games and it had seemed only a matter of time before this deal was struck. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Seattle Seahawks 21-16 at the Allianz Arena in Munich in front of 69,811 fans.

Figure 2 London has been mentioned as a possible future franchise location

The Future of the NFL Outside the US

There is no doubt that the NFL International Series has been a huge success and expanded interest in the sport and the league itself. Fans in London, Mexico City and now Germany have enjoyed competitive, regular season games that have sold out in a very short amount of time.

Long-term deals guarantee that the cities will continue to host these games, while other countries – such as Brazil, Scotland, Ireland and even Australia – have shown interest in expanding the series. The success has prompted calls for a franchise to permanently locate to the UK and the NFL is seriously looking into the logistics of such a move.

For now, the International Series games will continue to sell out and delight the fans. Being able to watch a real NFL game is the dream for many of us and those dreams have come true thanks to this initiative.

American Football International is your source for news and updates about American Football outside the United States!