NFL continues to set example for international traction as other sports follow suit


Courtesy of Keith Allison

Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson continues his impressive play as they beat the Jaguars 26-3 in London. London has hosted NFL games since 2007 and has found success in expanding its global audience.

Last Sunday, the Houston Texans triumphed 26-3 over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The game was played in London — something that football fans have become accustomed to seeing. Should other leagues follow suit?

The advantages of hosting games abroad are clear. By taking professional leagues to other countries, franchises can tap into a larger, worldwide audience and increase revenue and the size of their fan base simultaneously. It makes sense for the teams and the players competing overseas and raising their profiles. But what about the fans?

The Oct. 27 showdown was the third of four games to be hosted in London this NFL season as part of a tradition that started back in 2007. A fifth game is to be held in Mexico City in mid-November.

Almost 12 years to the day prior, the New York Giants defeated the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 28, 2007, in the first regular-season NFL game held outside North America. Back then, the decision to take football across the Atlantic was described as “an experiment aiming to spread the game’s appeal,” with plans to play two overseas games in the following four seasons should it be a success.

The NFL was remarkably successful in its expansion, and by 2016 the regularly scheduled overseas games became officially known as the NFL International Series, consisting of two sub-series–the NFL London games and the NFL Mexico game.

So, which sports (American and beyond) will be next to take the game abroad? In 2013, the Houston Rockets played a preseason game against the Indiana Pacers in Manila. Three days later, the teams met again in Taipei. Baseball, too, has taken strides to expand its exposure and spread popularity outside of its birthplace. The Los Angeles Dodgers opened their 2014 season in Sydney–the first time MLB regular-season games were hosted in Australia.

That is exactly the debate that has arisen in Spain surrounding La Liga’s proposal to bring regular-season soccer matches to the U.S., just as the sport has been doing as part of pre-season for many years. Ongoing deliberation between the league and Spanish Football Federation has followed last season’s disapproval of FC Barcelona’s proposal to play against Girona in Miami.

This time around, the chances of a stateside European soccer game look more likely, with the federation edging closer to agreeing to a proposal for Atlético Madrid’s game against Villareal in December to be moved to the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. Javier Tebas, the Spanish league president, said of the proposition: “We hope that this time we can carry out this positive action for everyone, as other leagues like the NFL or the NBA do when they stage matches overseas.”

With Barcelona pushing a similar bid to stage a league game in China in pursuit of brand exposure and “reaching more fans for sponsors and TV rights,” it increasingly looks as if times are changing in the world of sport. The NFL has paved the way for a new era–an era in which sport is not confined to a specific country, continent or audience.