Taking American Football Global

globe\footballs image composition by Thursday Review

Photocomposition by Thursday Review

Taking American Football Global

| published December 28, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says that as the Super Bowl prepares to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, American football is taking its first tentative—nay, robust—strides into an already rapidly-growing international market for sports.

Writing in The Economist, Goodell says that with U.S. audiences at their highest levels and with viewership becoming increasingly loyal, the next 50 years of football will include a commitment to “becoming a core part of today’s global sports landscape that ignores boundaries of geography and time.”

“Sports fans,” Goodell points out, “can now access sports entertainment from anywhere in the world, at any time, and on any device.” Meaning, the old school days of guys parked on the couch in front of a motionless TV are certainly over.

The business logic of American football going global is both sound and—arguably—irresistible. After all, the last two Super Bowls, in 2014 and again in 2015—broke all records for television viewership. And by “broke all records,” we don’t just mean sports viewership. Last February, Super Bowl 49 (this year the NFL is shedding its longstanding tradition of using Roman numerals to designate Super Bowl contests) became the most viewed TV event in television history—not just in total viewership, but also in percentage of TV households watching. Only one year earlier, Fox Sports had set the previous record—111.5 million viewers despite one of the most lopsided games in history, when Seattle buried Denver in a 43-8 drubbing.

That one-sided affair in Seattle confounded most advertising and marketing experts: for decades it was standard thinking that lopsided games drive people away from the TV or prompt them to change channels. Not so on February 2, 2014, when viewers stayed with the Super Bowl game to the bitter end, despite the foregone conclusion that Denver was being stomped with no chance to return.

Those two back-to-back viewership records also proved to the marketers of American football that the game has not yet reached its peak of revenue potential. There are millions more potential football fans all over the world. Like soccer, which now transcends all boundaries and all languages, football has yet to see its power to entertain reach its zenith.

Recent experiments in taking U.S. football global have already proven reasonably successful. In October, the NFL facilitated a regular season game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Buffalo Bills in a London stadium. The game was broadcast on U.S. television, but also streamed live via Yahoo and other platforms. It was also offered free-of-charge. The is the NFL’s way of conceding that as younger “content” viewers move to increasingly mobile devices, and away from the TV and the desktop computer, sports content must move with it, making itself available and attractive to the tens of millions who get the majority of their video consumption from sources other than TV.

By extension, to reach audiences worldwide, the NFL must make football available in a variety of packages and forms, including to those who may not even own a TV.

The NFL is already strongly considering—and, in some cases, already negotiating—for the ability to expand American football to games in Germany, Mexico, Brazil and France. Exhibition games in Canada and England have been around for decades, but starting in the late aught years, dozens of regular season games have been held in places like the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Wembley Stadium in London, and Estadio Azteca in Mexico. This year marked the third year in a row that at least three regular games have been held abroad (all foreign venue games since the start of 2014 have been held in London).

The next logical step: NFL teams based and hosted outside the United States, and sponsored and owned by foreign or international companies and investors. The smart money says to look toward Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Japan and Germany for those first steps. Goodell also says it may include training camps and a heavy increase in exhibition games abroad. Even China is considered prime real estate for the chance for American football to grow its audience.

In short: expect the NFL to begin in earnest its aggressive plans to expand outside of the United States. After all, when you already have the highest rated television shows in history, what direction can you go but up—at least in terms of audience and loyal viewership.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Super Bowl Sets New TV Ratings Record; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; February 4, 2014.

Big Bang Versus Big Bucks; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; February 6, 2014.