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Baseball, hockey, basketball, soccer (football for everyone outside North America) – all sports that benefit from international popularity. American football, on the other hand, has been named our country’s most popular sport for 47 years running (according to The Harris Poll), yet lacks the international appeal of so many other sports. Why?
There are a range of variables that may contribute to football’s limited international audience: the rules of the game are complicated, compared to other sports; play stops more frequently than other sports, which can detract from the excitement of the game; and, since there’s no tradition established in any other country, many potential viewers just can’t develop an attachment to the game. Whatever the reason, the NFL is pushing to clear these hurdles and make football the world’s most popular sport.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has established a lofty goal of hitting $25 billion in revenue by 2027 (up from an estimated $10 billion in 2012), and the league intends to meet that goal by (among other tactics) tapping into foreign markets.
Let’s remember, this isn’t the NFL’s first attempt to cement a fan base in Europe. The NFL’s former European arm, founded as the World League of American Football in 1991 and later relaunched as the creatively dubbed NFL Europe, found moderate success at the beginning, but a steady decline in attendance led to the league’s quiet cancellation in 2007.
Here’s a look at how the NFL compares with the English Premier League, the most watchedsoccer league in the world.
The NFL did not abandon Europe completely following the collapse of the NFL Europe; each year since 2007, London’s iconic Wembley Stadium has played host to one regular-season game. In October of last year, it was announced that the Jaguars and 49ers would face off in the London matchup for the 2013 season. And a week later, word of a second game in London began to spread, which the league later confirmed,
On September 29, the Vikings and Steelers battled it out on the Wembley pitch in front of the 83,000-plus fans in attendance. (See page 23 to learn how Wembley’s field fared.) Shortly following the successful event, the NFL announced two additional games for 2014.
These are signs that the sport, and the NFL brand, are growing globally, but should the league decide to move more games, or create a London-based team, it could find itself in direct competition with the most recognized soccer league in the world, the Premier League. Could the NFL win the battle? I say no way. But still, rising attendance and growing interest proves there is a place for American football outside of the states.