When it started it out in 1920, the National Football League (NFL) consisted of five teams from Ohio, four from Illinois, two from New York and one from Michigan. The league encountered a number of serious challenges, the biggest of these coming from the American Football League (AFL), until in the 1960s, the two organizations merged under the name of the NFL. Since then the NFL has expanded at least four times.
It’s also grown extremely popular, and not just in the US. According to stats on the website of consumer and market data company Statista, the NFL has enjoyed the support of at least 23.3 million fans in Mexico, 19.7 million in Brazil and 7.21 million in Canada. This post looks at the popularity of the NFL outside of the US, with a particular focus on Europe, and at how the organization plans to grow internationally.
The growth of the NFL in Europe
Out in Europe, there are also millions who enjoy the action on the grid. In the UK, the league has had at least 5.3 million fans, and in Germany, around 6.6 million have stated in the past that they’re fans of the NFL. The Spaniards also enjoy NFL action, with around 3.3 million having declared themselves fans of the sport.
One thing that has helped the sport to become popular in Europe has been the fact that NFL teams have played on the continent. Both the UK and Germany have not only simply said in a research that they were fans of the sport, but have proved this demand when tickets for live games have been placed online. In Germany, for instance, 777,000 people logged on when tickets went on sale in July for the first regular season game to take place in Germany. A large demand is also true in the case of London. There, tickets for all three of this year’s games sold out.
The demand for tickets in London has led to talk and the idea of a potential NFL London franchise. Although it’s only an idea, it seems more feasible than it has done in the past, as does the possibility of a potential division.
Naturally, sports betting also plays a part in the popularity of the NFL. The jewel in the NFL calendar, the Super Bowl, is a big draw for sports betting fans. Just like a wager on the Grand National horse race, placing a Super Bowl bet is something that some people like to do, even if they’re not major followers of the sport.
What is the NFL planning for the future?
The popularity of the NFL in the UK and Germany is a clear sign the sport is acquiring fans outside of the US. Spurred on by the success in these two nations, the NFL is now looking at expanding further into Europe by holding games in Spain and France.
In Spain, the Santiago Bernabéu, the stadium of the Spanish soccer club Real Madrid, is undergoing renovation work that will the soccer pitch to retract and make way for an artificial turf pitch suitable for American football and a capacity of 80,000. El Camp Nou, the home of soccer club Barcelona CF, is also set to undergo some long awaited renovations.
Following Europe, the Nordic market would be next. Sweden is of particular interest to the NFL in this regard.
International home marketing areas (IHMAs)
Holding football matches outside of the US isn’t the only approach to international growth, however. Towards the end of 2021, the NFL announced that it was launching a new initiative in which 18 teams would have access to 26 international home marketing areas (IHMAs) across eight countries.
As a result of the initiative, clubs can access international territories to build their global brands and, at the same time, drive the international growth of the NFL. They can conduct the same activities they would in their regular HMAs, such as in-person marketing and digital marketing, fan events, corporate sponsorship sales, youth football activities, sales of merchandise and co-marketing relationships with other sports and entertainment properties.
The use of digital assets
The world of digital will play a major part in the NFL’s drive to boost its international growth. Amazon Prime Video has begun offering “Thursday Night Football,” allowing fans to stream live games. One of the drawbacks of this, however, is that the majority of audiences will have to hold an Amazon Prime account or Amazon Prime Video account to access the service.
The NFL is growing internationally, especially in Europe and it is looking to expand further into the continent. This will be much to the delight of fans in those countries, who may no longer have to always stream content or watch TV to follow NFL action. That’s something they can, however, do if they can’t secure tickets to one of the live games in their country.