The International NFL: a Preposterous Proposition

What if Roger Goodell and his ilk were to get their way and the NFL were to expand internationally?  Just how would that work?  Time to drink the Kool-aid and take a ride on the Sport Change roller coaster of organized imagination.



For several years now, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has publicly stated his wish to expand the  league internationally by placing franchises abroad.  London is the most immediate target, and Wembley Stadium plays host to an NFL game each season as part of the NFL International Series.  In addition to London, the International Series hosted an NFL game in Mexico City in 2005.  Each time the London match rolls around, Goodell waxes romantic about how wonderful it would be to have an NFL franchise across the pond.  Rumors swirl about expansion teams overseas and/or relocation of a current franchise.



Though most responses to the International Series fall somewhere between indifference and eye-rolling, there is also a considerable amount of criticism from sports press and fans alike.  Common refrains include: “It’s the National Football League…National!,” “NFL Europa and the World League both failed,”  and “this is just another way for the greedy NFL to make more money.”  There has also been backlash from some players, who complain about long plane rides, wacky scheduling, and loss of a home game.  British fans of American football often laugh at the notion and share doubts about a franchise’s success in London–most are already fans of an existing NFL franchise, and have no plans to change that.


The World League/NFL Europa was an interesting experiment, but it didn’t last.


The Sport Change Take

As previously stated here and here, Sport Change is adamantly opposed to NFL international expansion or relocation.  If rich guys really want to see the NFL take flight overseas, go for it.  Just leave our National Football League out of it.  There’s too much history, too much interest, and too much success to risk losing or harming the league in an action rooted in hubris and greed.    There are more pressing concerns–perhaps a team in L.A. would be nice?  A team in Toronto would be a tough enough pill to swallow, and that’s barely international.  

Despite all this, Sport Change cannot help but wonder and ponder how an international NFL scenario could play out.  Let’s do this in Q&A form–here we go!



The Basic Premise of the Preposterous Proposition

Two NFL teams are added as expansion franchises–one team in London and one team in Mexico City.  Neither team would belong to a division, but the London franchise would be a member of the AFC and the Mexico franchise would be a member of the NFC.  Each team would play a full slate of games, but each game would be a home game.  Read on to learn more.


Why London?

The question of whether or not London is actually ready for an NFL team hasn’t stopped league brass from trumpeting their mission.  As such, we’ll entertain it.  The team would play games at Wembley Stadium for the time being, and perhaps Olympic Stadium down the line.

Why Mexico City?

As mentioned earlier, the NFL International Series began with a bang in 2005.  The Arizona Cardinals played a regular season game against the San Francisco 49ers at the colossal Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.  The game drew a whopping 103,467 spectators, which broke the NFL attendance record at the time.  Looking back to a preseason game played by the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Oilers at Azteca in 1994, the attendance was a ridiculous 112,376–standing room only.  Mexico City is the third largest city on Planet Earth, and interest in football is surprisingly high.


Mexico City is the planet’s third largest city and has hosted two NFL games that drew north of 100,000 fans.  Is the NFL ready for vuvuzelas?


What would the brands look like?

Sport Change recently polled readers to ask what the best names for teams in these locations would be.  It’s important to consider that the name would have to be accessible to fans both in that country and here in the U S of A.  In London, Dragons and Griffins fought tooth and nail, with the fire-breathers having the last laugh.  In Mexico, Aztecs was the clear leader, but Sport Change contributor and political correctness zealot Maria Maccamini-Cowan articulated why Aztecs may be an offensive moniker.  Maria is the expert in these matters, so Sport Change gave her the benefit of the doubt.  There was a tie for second place between Lobos and Toros, and we chose Lobos due to the relative lack of wild dog related monikers in the Big Four.  So we have the London Dragons and the Mexico Lobos.  (I guess Lobos de Mexico D.F. would be more appropriate, but as stated, the brand must be decipherable to America.)  For uniforms, I’m going to say black/green for the Dragons and white/orange for the Lobos.  For helmet logos, imagine something similar to the Dayton Dragons for London and New Mexico U for the Lobos.


The London Dragons–clad in black and green. Classy.

Who would play for these teams?

Initially, the rosters for these two teams could be stocked with free agents and standouts from the CFL, UFL, Arena League, etc.  There could also be an expansion draft of some kind; wherein each team must declare a player or two for eligibility.  Working the teams into the NFL Draft could be tricky–we’ll explain more in a bit.


Why AFC and NFC?

Sport Change has placed the London Dragons in the AFC and the Mexico Lobos in the NFC.  This is a bit arbitrary, but there’s some reasoning at play.  For starters, distance is inconsequential.  The geographical layouts of the AFC and NFC are nearly identical in the bigger picture.  Yes, the Raiders, Chargers, and Broncos would have long flights to London.  So would the Seahawks, Niners, and Cardinals.  The reasoning behind the conferencial placement stems from cultural factors.  A cumulative poll over the last five years reveals that the Patriots and Dolphins are the two most popular NFL teams in England.  Couple that with Jacksonville signing on to play games in Wembley for the next few years and the answer is clear: AFC to London.  To make things easy, the NFC holds the edge in Mexico.  The Cowboys seem to be the most popular team on a consistent basis over the years.  AFC teams are popular South of the Border as well (Steelers, Dolphins, Raiders) but the 49ers, Packers, and Giants also have broad bases in Mexico.

The NFC carries the for Mexico.

The NFC carries the torch…er..flag for Mexico.


How would scheduling work?

Here is where this proposition gets a little unorthodox.  As alluded to earlier, each international team would play a full slate of sixteen games, but play only at home.  Each team in the AFC would travel to London once per season, and each team in the NFC would play in Mexico once per season.  There is no point in having a team abroad if they are travelling to play in the US.  To ensure a sustainable revenue stream out of the gate, it makes sense to have a sold-out stadium each week.  It’s also the only fair way to do it.  If a London team were placed in the AFC East, for example, Bills fans may blame their losing ways on the travel demands of the international game each year.  They already blame Canada!  If 16 games remained the standard in the NFL, the international game could replace a regularly slated game on a set schedule by taking the place of one of the three conference-non-division games each team plays each year on a rotating schedule.  For instance, the last place Lions would be scheduled to play the last place NFC East and West teams one year, East and South teams the next year, and West and South teams the year after.  Another way to do it would be to add a seventeenth game of the season for each team–either replacing the last preseason game or replacing the bye week.  That would be 17 games for each team, with the international teams squaring off once per regular season (alternate stadiums year to year) to fill the schedule.  No doubt Goodell and gang would salivate at that notion–the NFLPA?  Not so much.  Either way, the premise remains the same: each AFC team travels to London for a game each year, and each NFC team travels to Mexico City for a game each year.



The AFC in London. It’s already happening.


What about playoffs?

I don’t think there would be any fair way to include the Dragons and Lobos in the playoff hunts of their respected conferences.  With only home games and in-conference match-ups, the playing field wouldn’t be level.  Imagine your favorite team losing the wild card spot to an international team.  That would probably be the quickest way to slay the Dragons, so to speak.  That said, the international teams would need some sort of postseason to play for.  I think the best solution would be to simply have the Dragons and Lobos play each other in a World Bowl–similar to a college bowl game.  The World Bowl could be played in the football-starved time vacuum that is the weekend prior to the Super Bowl.   The team with the best overall record hosts the World Bowl–a huge incentive to stay competitive all year long.  In the event of matching records, there would no special tiebreaker needed to determine the host site–the Dragons and Lobos would have that one regular season head-to-head matchup each year.



Time to resurrect the World Bowl?


Potential problems?

You betcha.  For starters, the players would likely be opposed to both extending the season and adding travel.  The international teams would likely have a hard time finding enough quality players to field a competitive team.  Money would certainly be available, but it may be a tough sell to convince players, coaches, etc. to pack up their families and settle in a new land.  That could lead to more players/coaches from the homeland of each nation–making for exciting but low caliber teams.  There could be issues of all kinds relating to gambling, throwing games, stadium security, etc.  Another concern would be the economic impact of these games.  Hosting an NFL team would likely be a boon to the economy of a particular city, but it’s hard to be sure.  If the international games were able to consistently draw a significant amount of American fans, that would certainly be an influx of revenue to the foreign cities.  The teams would likely be employing locals to run just about everything as well.  However, make no mistake: the NFL and NFL team owners would be eating the biggest piece of the pie.  At the end of the day, if the games were taking loose change from the pockets of ordinary citizens in a foreign land and depositing them in a Swiss bank account, something is off.  That said, I guess that’s no different than taking the loose change of fans in Buffalo, Oakland, or Jacksonville.


What is this proposition?

As stated ad nauseum, Sport Change is opposed to the NFL expanding internationally.  However, if it were to happen, this idea may be an equitable and interesting way to make it work.  What do you think?  Please share your comments.  Thank you for reading.



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