A funny thing happened after the NFL canceled its 2020 International Series due to the COVID-19 pandemic: virtually all data used to measure the popularity of professional football outside the United States (TV viewership, store purchases NFL official and streaming video, to name a few) grew appreciably compared to 2019. The numbers served to reinforce the league’s strategy to have a presence in emerging markets, which counts as one of its elements the celebration of games abroad.
However, that’s not necessarily the centerpiece of the strategy of popularizing your brand outside of the continental United States.
The match to be played on Sunday morning between the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, and which will mark the return of the NFL to London this weekend, is one of the two International Series matches scheduled for the 2021. The team owners approved last spring a resolution guaranteeing the staging of four International Series matches per season starting in 2022, in the United Kingdom, Mexico and probably also in Germany. By contrast, the days of building a full eight-game ‘home’ schedule in the UK, or setting up a franchise abroad, seem more and more distant than ever.
In fact, the top management of the NFL decided to diversify efforts, trying to consolidate the sale of localized rights to broadcast games, the construction of infrastructure to attract and develop international players and the launch of a new program that will allow teams to make their own. marketing efforts in various foreign markets.
“We have learned that these international games give us an incredible advantage to drive fans,” said Chris Halpin, executive vice president and head of strategy and growth for the NFL. “But they cannot act independently. They are a truly important ingredient in boosting and developing a hobby, but they are not the only ingredient and they will not work either, unless you have the rest of the elements that empower a hobby. We regard these matches as the supreme experience that a fan can have ”.
For a long time, discussions of the NFL’s international efforts focused on the purported goal of establishing a franchise abroad, either through relocation of an existing team or expansion. Tickets for games played outside the United States are constantly sold out in a short time, despite the fact that the games offered by the league are mostly uninteresting. As early as 2017, NFL executives noted that 40,000 people purchased tickets for all international games in a season (four): that is, a supposed subscriber base.
The decision to relocate the Rams and Chargers to Los Angeles made London the most lucrative market available; However, beyond the Jacksonville Jaguars’ commitment to playing one game per season over the previous decade, there is no indication that NFL team owners have plans to use the UK as a bargaining chip to secure stadium contracts. locals, much less have serious ideas of moving to the British capital. Halpin called the idea of an international franchise an “aspiration,” although he said it was not a goal of current NFL efforts. The executive reiterated that logistical challenges (from travel to scheduling playoff games at the last minute) are difficult to solve.
“Our job is to create enough conditions to make it an option that team owners can pursue,” says Halpin. “That means preparing a market until it is ready to [ser sede de] the NFL… It is certainly possible. You require a team owner who wants to go and the belief that it’s the right thing to do for the league and the fans, and you require the rest of the elements to fit. We consider that our job is to prepare the markets, but not to focus on something that is many steps away from the current scenario ”.
The growth of the NFL during the 2020 season confirmed the relevance of those efforts. According to Halpin, the audience share of NFL game broadcasts increased in the United Kingdom after the creation two years ago of the specialized channel “Sky Sports NFL”, which broadcasts American football league games. Subscriptions paid to game streaming streaming services through the GamePass service increased by 30%. Free video broadcasts from the NFL Network increased by 90%, and for the first time, the NFL surpassed one million downloads outside the United States of direct-to-consumer videos. Sales of the official NFL Shop grew 80% internationally, according to Halpin, and Super Bowl LV reached a record audience in Germany, with 2.2 million people tuning in to the final big game of the NFL.
“If you go back the movie 12 months,” Halpin continues, “it would be hard to imagine that much momentum for [el mercadeo internacional], coming out of the bowels of the COVID. Although it also serves as a reflection of the fact that this sport is in great shape; and when you show it to people, they love it. “
In particular, fan participation in Germany has reached a new level. Currently, the German nation ranks as the third largest market in the NFL for fantasy football and the video game Madden. The average television audience for the league’s partner in that country, the private free-to-air channel ProSieben, increased by 50% to 600,000 people per game. And of the roughly 120,000 tickets sold this season for the matches to be held in London, 17% were purchased by fans with addresses in Germany.
As a result, the NFL hired former World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper to head a newly expanded team of leaders in the UK and Europe. Additionally, it is in the process of establishing a regional office in Germany. The NFL has received offers from seven German cities to host a game in 2022; although it will most likely happen in 2023. An announcement on the league’s decision is expected shortly.
Why is the German market so sought after? Aside from fan participation, it has the largest pool of potential college and professional players outside of the United States, Canada and perhaps Mexico, according to Chris Adamson, co-founder of the Gridiron Imports Foundation, along with former NFL player Bjoern. Werner. (Adamson coached Werner, a German native, at a Connecticut boarding school and trained the defensive end until he entered Florida State University and later first-round pick in the 2013 draft by the Indianapolis Colts.)
Wide receiver and tight end Moritz Boehringer was the first European player to be taken in the NFL draft without having attended an American university. Boehringer was selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the sixth round of the 2016 draft. Seattle Seahawks linebacker Aaron Dorkor, also a German-born, was the first Gridiron Import alumnus to be on an NFL roster. Donkor, who played at Arkansas State University, was placed on the Seahawks practice team through the International Pathway Program [Programa de caminos internacionales] of the NFL, a renewal of more than a decade of efforts to create additional spots on practice teams for international players who would not otherwise have roster opportunities in the league.
Gridiron Imports Advocates for European Players to Enroll in US Colleges as Path to NFL; however, the Pathway Program invites athletes from all over the world practicing different sports disciplines to an annual congregation to demonstrate their physical abilities to NFL talent evaluators. The next event is scheduled for October 12 in London, with the presence of approximately 50 players from 14 countries. Other programs have helped international players such as offensive tackle Jordan Mailata (Philadelphia Eagles), tight end Sammis Reyes (Washington Football Team), defensive end Efe Obada (Buffalo Bills) and power running back Jakob Johnson (New England Patriots). ) to get roster spots for various teams.
“There is still a disconnect and an educational process about how best to reach the NFL level,” says Adamson. “How do you go from playing football in your hometown to being part of the Pathway Program? … We are firm believers that including players in NCAA football is the best way to prepare them for the NFL. That’s the American football minor league system. They will have better opportunities there than if they come directly from their countries ”.
Ultimately, the effort is not so much about supplying NFL rosters as it is about making direct connections between international fans and the games themselves. Last spring, team owners approved the formation of another avenue aimed at the same goal, giving the green light to the creation of the Home Marketing Area (HMA) program, which partially lifts the ban on teams from carrying out their own marketing efforts outside of your local market. All interested team owners were instructed to bid this month to request to be allowed to perform in select international territories, virtually anywhere in the world, where they will be able to interact with fans through social media, marketing and other connections. direct.
Eventually, annual revenue in excess of $ 1 million will be shared among the 32 teams, Halpin says. However, the main objective is to give international fans a more specific and tangible object on which to focus their interest.
“At the end of the day,” says Halpin, “everyone’s a fan of the NFL because of a team and a few players. They are much better at creating enthusiasm and connections than the shield [de la NFL]. Teams and players. That is the product ”.
Both of this season’s International Series games will be over before we know it. After Sunday’s clash, we will have a match in Week 6 between the Jaguars and the Miami Dolphins, also staged at Tottenham Stadium. Regardless of whether there are two, four parties; If nothing else, they now only represent a small part of the NFL’s international ambitions, which are expanding at full speed.