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It seems kind of weird each season when National Football League games are held in London in the overseas United Kingdom ~ where no NFL teams are based. Why is that?
Since 2007, the NFL has been scheduling games in London in a significant effort to establish a presence in the metropolis and its nation. The NFL has hopes to permanently institute the sport in England, with the ultimate goal of having a team located there.
Through the 2023 season, neither has been accomplished, although some would argue that the intensity of fans at the London games indicates at least decent passion for American football. In fact, international games generally sell well ticket-wise.
The fact that NFL games were staged in London for consecutive weeks in 2022 hints at a positive stance by league officials regarding progress of their goals. In that last game overseas in 2022, the Green Bay Packers became the final NFL team to play a game in London.
The annual London game seems firmly established ~ along with games in other non-U.S. cities as part of what is called the international series.
London is not the only major city outside the United States to get some NFL action. While London has been the site of 35 regular-season NFL games, Mexico City has hosted 4. Toronto also has hosted non-regular NFL games.
Further in this effort to expand the national game into an international game, the NFL has scheduled many preseason games abroad: 13 in Tokyo, 9 in London, 6 in Toronto, 6 in Mexico City, and 5 in Berlin!
The international games have fared well regarding selling tickets, but league officials have not yet determined the viability (profitability) of awarding a franchise to London.
Even without establishing teams outside of the United States, the international series builds awareness of the fascinating (and violent) American game, further growing the popularity of the NFL around the world.
Major League Baseball acknowledged the international impact to its game by staging the first regular-season game outside the country way back in 1996. That season, the New York Mets and San Diego Padres played a full 3-game series in Monterrey, Mexico.
The MLB did not return until 1999, when the Padres and Colorado Rockies played a single game in Monterrey.
Tokyo hosted MLB games in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012. Sydney, Australia, got games in 2014. In 2018, MLB games returned to Moneterrey, Mexico.
The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox took their historic rivalry to London, England, for 2 games in 2019. More regular-season games were scheduled overseas for the 2023 season, and it does not appear the MLB will stop traveling any time soon.
The National Hockey League of course has long been a sport between clubs from both the United States and Canada. The National Basketball Association expanded into Toronto and Vancouver, although the franchise has since moved to Memphis.
Major League Baseball, of course, was the first major American sport to expand beyond the U.S. borders, when the Montreal Expos began play in the National League in 1969 (along with the San Diego Padres).
The Expos were joined by the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League starting in 1997, but eventually the Montreal franchise was moved to Washington, D.C. to become the Nationals.
Among the major U.S. sports, baseball features more players from other countries. In fact, Latin-American countries such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic have provided more players to the MLB than there are African-American players nowadays.
Baseball is extremely popular in other countries like Mexico and Japan. While football reaches a little beyond the borders, like for NFL teams from California attracting support by a considerable number of residents of Mexico, other nations do not provide a significant number of players to the NFL.
American professional football has shown potential to stick in other countries. It just has not, at least as of 2023.
The NFL plays regular-season games in London every season, and has since 2007. The only question is, how many games per season?
Starting in 2023, the NFL will stage at least 4 games internationally each season. Every NFL club is guaranteed to play a home game at an international location every 8 seasons.
- NFL teams are free to volunteer to play home games outside of the United States.
- The NFL has established a 3-week period for international games, in an effort to address travel challenges for both participating teams.
- NFL teams most often have their “bye week,” a week free of games during the regular season, immediately following play in an international contest.
Players not from the United States have participated in NFL play since the league’s inception in 1920. That first year, several notable players were born overseas, including Phil and John Nesser from Germany. Eventually, 7 Nesser brothers would play in the league.
Bob Nash from Ireland also participated that first season, and later would become the very 1st captain of the New York Giants.
A total of 9 NFL players born outside of the United States have been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Canada sent 2, Bronko Nagurski of the Chicago Bears, and Arnie
Weinmeister of the New York Giants.
Other Hall of Famers have come from Norway and Denmark (both kickers), Germany, Italy, Honduras, Mexico, and Guatemala. For that last nation, famed linebacker Ted Hendricks was born there.
The league’s rosters today have players from over 28 foreign nations, including Canada, Mexico, Australia, Tonga, Scotland, Germany, Austria, England, Jamaica, and Nigeria.
While international players have been making their mark in the NFL for decades, it’s fascinating to delve deeper into the teams that have housed legends of the game. Over the years, certain franchises have become powerhouses, producing numerous players who eventually found their way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. To get a better understanding of which teams have had the most inductees and contributed significantly to football’s rich history, check out our article on 13 NFL Teams with the Most Hall of Famers.
Future of the NFL Outside the United States
A statement by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2022 hints strongly that the London games are here to stay: “There is no question that London could support not just one franchise, I think two franchises. I really believe that.”
It’s important to note that NFL games played abroad are not judged entirely by ticket sales. In today’s world of online connectivity expanding communications beyond borders, bringing more people to watch NFL games on television, or to purchase NFL-approved merchandise like jerseys, means big revenues for the league and franchises.
Fans of any major U.S. sport should be aware that television revenues play a very significant part in the decision-making process of leagues and franchises. The more people they can prove watch games, the more they can charge advertisers, many of which enjoy significant success outside the country.
For the 2019 season, a regular-season game between the Oakland Raiders and Chicago Bears was the first ever played in the brand-spanking-new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. The NFL has reached an agreement with the huge facility to stage 2 games there each season for 10 years.
Establishing an NFL franchise in London actually has its own Wikipedia page, which states the league expects to have a team based there by 2025.
However, such a move would require approval of most of the owners of NFL clubs, and then the league would have significant hurdles to overcome, including which division to place an expansion team, and logistical, travel, legal, and financial challenges.
If an NFL team simply relocates to London, it alleviates (mostly) the problem of which division to place the London club, and also would not disrupt the league’s already challenging 17-game schedule.
Question: Was London the first non-U.S. city to get an NFL game?
Answer: No. The very first NFL team to play outside the U.S. was the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948, when they beat the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League in Toronto. In fact, NFL teams played CFL teams regularly until 1961. Mexico City hosted a regular-season NFL game in 2005, but the so-called international series did not officially begin until 2007.
Q.: How has attendance been at these non-U.S. games?
A.: Very good. Tickets to the London contests sell out in days; and that very 1st NFL game in Mexico City drew over 100,000 fans. It was the largest crowd to ever watch an NFL regular-season game live.
Q.: Were there other professional football games held outside the United States?
A.: Yes, in fact far preceding the NFL’s attempts. In 1926, not long after the NFL formed in 1920, the old American Football League’s New York Yankees played the Los Angeles Wildcats in Maple Leaf Stadium in Toronto.
Q.: Do NFL teams ever play CFL teams?
A.: In the past, yes, many times. In fact, there was kind of a series between the 2 leagues where teams faced off from 1948 through 1961. By the way, NFL teams won all those games. Finally in 1961, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL topped the Buffalo Bills of the new American Football League, 38-21, in Hamilton, Canada.