THE NFL ABROAD
Recently in England, the Football Association unveiled a plan to take their top soccer teams around the world. It’s an obvious attempt to make the Premiership football a global brand.
It’s all about revenues. If the local market is near saturation, there can only be one expansion path – overseas and the NFL has been playing with this option for years.
They began their testing of foreign market in 1986 with preseason exhibition games designated as “American Bowls,” before going for broke with the World League of American Football in 1990.
Combining teams from Europe with smaller North American markets, the league gave football to European capitals and provided an opportunity in non-NFL cities in the USA to experience organised pro-football for the first time.
The World League lasted just two years. It was probably too ambitious.
A European comeback began in 1995 with NFL Europe, but it always struggled to gain the expected attendances that would make it viable. First the English Monarchs were done away with, then the Scottish team and finally, the league was wrapped up in 2007.
The NFL did not just focus on the teams in their leagues. With their vision of expansion onto a soccer continent, there was the necessity for education about this strange sport involving padding and different teams within a team.
In addition to the Leagues, the NFL gave support and guidance to the ”locals” where it could, promoting football at all levels.
I remember meeting Chuck Noll at Crystal Palace in February 1993. Coach Noll was visiting the United Kingdom as part of the NFL's World Partnership Coaching Clinic.
I found Mr. Noll's talk both enthusiastic and informative and commented in our newsletter at the time, “that anyone starting out as a coach in the U K would have found a lot of inspiration from his talk.”
I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to speak to coach Noll after his talk and took the opportunity to get him to autograph a few items that I used as competition prizes for the UK fans.
In 2005, the NFL attempted a different tact, playing a regular season game in Mexico. They were now taking a different path to their new markets and more than 100,000 fans turned out for the game.
They continued with that option last year with the game between the Dolphins and the Giants at Wembley Stadium selling out. With their eagerness to carry on that idea by bringing over the Saints and the Chargers this October, it would appear that the NFL have found their winning formulae.
There is even talk of playing a Super Bowl overseas, but I believe that in the quest to bring more fans into the sport, the NFL should not forget their grassroots. Making fans travel to another city for the Super Bowl is one thing, but to make them travel to a different continent is something they should give careful thought to.