NFL International Expansion: A Hit or a Bad Fit?

NFL International Expansion: A Hit or a Bad Fit?

On Wednesday afternoon, the NFL announced that the Raiders and Packers preseason game will be moved to Canada. 

The tilt will take place on August 22nd at IG Field, home of the Winnipeg CFL team, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The game will be the first NFL game played in Canada in five years. Due to this game, the Raiders will also make history. Since they also have a game in London this year, the Raiders will be the first team to play in three countries in one season. Last season, as you may recall, the “game of the year” was supposed to be played in Mexico City. The thrilling Rams-Chiefs offensive shootout was moved from Mexico at the last minute due to unsafe field conditions. With the NFL getting so involved internationally, this week we debate if they should join the NBA, MLB and NHL and expand internationally. 

Side 1: Yes, the NFL should expand internationally

It’s about time for the NFL to expand abroad. As mentioned above, they are the only major sports league that does not have international affiliation. Football is the most popular sport in America and the NFL is its flagship league. While other countries may not like American football as much as the United States, there is absolutely a market for it abroad. The popularity of the planned game in Mexico City was immense. The game drew incredible buzz and the preseason game this year in Canada is sure to do the same. 

While Canada and Mexico seem to be the most logical choices for expansion, the NFL has created some buzz in Europe too. Every year, the NFL has been playing multiple games in London and has seen success doing so. The games are always sold out and generate a lot of interest around the league. The games usually occur at Wembley Stadium, which has roughly a 90,000 person capacity. 

If the NFL can easily sell out that venue consistently, maybe it’s a sign that expansion would be a good idea. At the least, it shows that there is potentially a market for the NFL over there. In Canada, the CFL has seen success so it’s fair to say that there is a market in Canada as well.

Let’s address the problem of travel. One of the biggest reasons against expansion, particularly in London, would be the travel involved for the team. Being in London and then having to travel across America every other week for 4-5 months would be unfair for the team and would probably give their opponent a competitive advantage for games played in America. However, NFL football requires the least amount of travel, by far, of any major sport. Playing only once a week minimizes the travel problem. Sometimes, you hear players, coaches or other people affiliated with NBA and MLB teams complain about the travel of a long season and how taxing it is. You never really hear this complaint in the NFL, outside of teams who have to travel on short weeks with less rest. For Mexico or Canada, this would be even less of an issue. It has never really been an issue in the NBA or MLB when teams need to travel abroad, and the NFL plays far less games.

Additionally, the NFL could look good expanding internationally if they push the community initiative aspect of expansion. Both the NFL and the teams specifically do a great job of helping out in the community and pushing positive programs to the local people. The “Play 60” campaign is a great example. Expanding the NFL to include an international franchise could have a great local impact off the field. We often see players doing a great job of helping out in the community and showing that they care about off field issues. If the NFL or the new team is successful in implementing community outreach programs early on, it will increase the local popularity of not only the team, but the league in general. This year, right now, we are watching the magic and the power of when a whole country can get behind one team. The Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals has been fun to watch, particularly because of the insane support that they have received from the whole country. Regardless of what you think of Drake and his crazy antics, we can all agree it’s fun to watch a whole country rally around one team, similar to the World Cup in soccer.

Other professional leagues based in the United States have seen great success with international expansion. It’s about time the NFL joins them.

Side 2: No, the NFL should not explore expansion

The NFL should not consider international expansion at this time for several reasons. First of all, the NFL has many other issues to deal with right now and should not complicate things by trying to expand abroad in the middle of many other things going on. To start, the NFL is seeing declining overall popularity. To be clear, the NFL is still the most popular league in America and that does not seem like it will change any time soon. However, it’s a fact that popularity has gone down slightly in recent years. Regardless of where you stand personally about players kneeling or the justice system of players’ punishment when it comes to marijuana and violence, for example, these issues have undoubtedly been a problem for the NFL. The NFL should focus on addressing their handling of these issues and focus on fixing their image and regaining popularity before even considering international expansion. 

Above, we looked at the popularity of American football in other countries. Both the local and national popularity of football is one of the most important factors in international expansion. We discussed how there appears to be a couple solid markets that they NFL could explore. However, nothing is a guarantee and it would be hard to gauge long term interest. International expansion is a very expensive proposition considering that American football is really only popular in, well, America! While international popularity of the NFL is seemingly on the rise, there is no guarantee that an international franchise would be successful, and if the NFL screws it up in any way, it will present a hellish whirlwind that will be impossible to deal with. 

This is on top of the many other issues that they are currently dealing with. Said another way, it is better for the NFL to stay the course and get back to what made them the most popular league in America. 

My Take

Yes, I think the NFL should at least consider international expansion. As a fan, it would be very interesting to see how they went about it. Which city would they pick? What would the timeline look like? What would the local response be? Would the move be a success? Given all the factors, it seems like it would be a success. I still stand by the fact that the NFL has other, more pressing issues to address first. Player punishment and the long term health of players is more important right now, and these are the issues that are grabbing headlines. Every now and again, headlines will pop up about how the NFL is thinking about expansion, or about a statement Goodell made about expansion. Given the length of the process of international expansion, I think the NFL should go for it and start exploring the best city to expand internationally. 

What do YOU think? Should the NFL expand internationally? Why or why not? Where should they consider going?

NBA expert and IU grad. '96 Bulls > Warriors. #FireGarPax