American football has always been more than just a sport. Since its inception at various college campuses around the country, it has been an American tradition. Fans have cheered their teams for generations and have taken the sport to new levels of recognition. Today, American football is viewed by fans worldwide and, like many American businesses, the NFL wants to cater to these foreign markets.
The NFL is planning to host a 2018 regular season game in China, according to ESPN on March 23. The Los Angeles Rams are the likely candidate to play, but there is a long list of teams that are willing to participate overseas. The NFL already has a game in Mexico City planned for 2016, committed to three games in London, and has shown interest in playing in both Germany and Brazil. Their ambition and long-term plan to operate worldwide cannot be denied. However, just how successful they will be in these parts remains to be seen.
When it comes to western sports attempting to penetrate foreign markets, the NFL has been left behind. The NHL generates more than $1 billion in sales from licensed merchandise worldwide. The MLB and NBA enjoy hundreds of millions of dollars in profit from international operations, while the NFL has a significantly smaller percentage of their profits come from overseas markets.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has some lofty goals to change that. He has stated he expects $25 billion in yearly revenue for the year 2027, compared to the $13 billion expected this year. That goal will not be possible without some success overseas, as the American market now offers no real opportunity for growth.
This isn’t the first time the NFL has ventured into foreign markets. In 1991 NFL Europa was formed. Also known as the World League of American Football, it played with teams from both Europe and the United States, but failed to catch on. In 2007, the NFL quietly ended the league after years of being unable to make it a profitable endeavor.
There are several reasons the NFL has had more trouble gaining international momentum than other sports. It’s not as easy to pick up American football as it is baseball or basketball. American football often requires more equipment and the rules are more complicated to understand. If kids aren’t playing the sport at school or in their free time they might be less inclined to develop an interest in becoming fans of the professional leagues. In the United States children and adults alike idolize NFL super stars, but in other countries you are more likely to find people idolizing soccer stars.
Still, the NFL has its eyes set on becoming an international player and it’s easy to see why. The United States only has a few hundred million potential fans, but the world has billions. That potential market is impossible to resist.