In the United States, the NFL has a monopoly on football. No, the XFL, AAF, USFL, etc are not even close. With 32 teams all located in the continental U.S., it makes sense that the NFL would attempt to branch out around the world. The NFL in Europe is a fun idea all around because despite the fact that the other football dominates European television sets, it’s catching fire across the pond.
How Big is the NFL in Europe?
Did you know that the NFL actually attempted to expand into Europe? At one time, there was an international football league called World League of American Football that featured three European teams in London, Frankfurt, and Barcelona with eight more teams stateside. It lasted just two years.
Then, in 1995, the World League changed into nine European teams. The NFL actually partnered with them and it turned into NFL Europe where they had a working relationship not unlike what the XFL and NFL have today. NFL teams could allocate some of their own players overseas in exchange for roster exceptions in training camp, allowing them to roster more players than otherwise allowed.
NFL Europe lasted until 2007 when it dissolved. In terms of wins, the Amsterdam Admirals led the way with a record of 68-62. Meanwhile, the Frankfurt Galaxy led the way with four titles, followed by the Berlin Thunder with three, and the Rhein Fire had two. Germany teams dominate and they learned how to bet on your favorite sport in Germany.
The NFL in Europe Today
It’s been 15 years since NFL Europe dissolved but that doesn’t keep Roger Goodell from looking at our friends across the pond with money signs in his eyes. MLB has been the forefront of expansion of late but it’s the NFL that could be considering some movement.
Just last year, there was a report that the NFL could officially expand into Europe and create a four-team division.Would it be a good idea? Maybe! Logistically, it’d be a nightmare and would just add fuel to the fire for those who claim the league doesn’t actually care for player safety. What’s a little safety when money could be made? /s
NFL International Series
With the fall of NFL Europe, the NFL kicked off the NFL International Series. They wasted no time and immediately had the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants face off at Wembley Stadium on October 28, 2007 where the Giants won, 13-10. The first 40,000 tickets sold out in just 90 minutes, so it’s obvious there was a market. For the next five years, the NFL held one game in London annually.
In 2013, the NFL chose to play two games overseason for the first time. From 2014 through 2016, the NFL featured three games in Europe. The second international game of 2016 was actually played at Twickenham Stadium, the first of its kind to not be played at Wembley.
2017 came around and the NFL upped its European match count to four, two at Wembley and two at Twickenham. In 2018, it dropped back down to three before upping back up to four in 2019. Naturally, there were no NFL International Series games in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic before returning in 2021 with a pair of games. Last year, four games were played in Europe (with the first game played in Germany between the Seahawks and Buccaneers) and this season will feature five games with the Bills, Titans, and Jaguars in London and Patriots and Chiefs in Germany.
Across the 34 games played (33 in London, one in Germany), attendance has been impressive. While no game was 100% sold out — the closest was in 2022 with 97% capacity in the game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium between the Packers and Giants — it’s been solid. Overall, the games have had about 93% capacity. Compare that to the NFL in 2022 where the league average was 98% (given, 10 teams reported 100%+). That 93% is better than the Falcons, Giants, and Commanders.
Is the NFL in Europe as popular as it is here in the States? Of course not! That’d be like comparing attendance for soccer matches here vs there.
However, the NFL’s popularity overseas is significant. It’s obvious that there is a legitimate interest in American Football thanks to the expansion of television coverage. NFL fans in Europe can keep up with their favorite clubs stateside despite the wack time zone differences.
Could expansion into Europe work? That’s to be determined. Is there enough NFL-worthy talent to go around 36 teams? Even with 32 teams, there’s a stark difference between the top teams and the bottom. Plus, the process of adding expansion teams can be a headache and would severely water down the talent pool.
Overall, NFL sees too good of an opportunity to pass up. Will they expand in the near future? Who knows. All we know is that it would be a logistical nightmare that would require a whole lot of thinking.
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