National Football League teams are eyeing a host of international markets as part of a league plan to grant exclusive merchandising and marketing rights abroad. While bids have arrived for a host of countries, one in particular has the attention of teams looking to expand: Mexico.
In an effort to broaden its global footprint, the NFL has approved opportunities for its 32 franchises to evaluate potential business in specific international regions and cities. Under the Home Marketing Area (HMA) Initiative, the league invited teams to submit five-year marketing proposals by Sept. 30. Market assignments are expected to be officially distributed early next year. All NFL teams were allowed to contact outside consultants and apply to more than one region in their proposals. League personnel will review submissions this month before making final recommendations and selections in November. Memos regarding HMA licenses are slated to be sent to clubs in December.
So far, though, there’s interest in China, Canada, Germany and the U.K, where the NFL has played regular season games annually since 2007. The Jacksonville Jaguars, for example, unsurprisingly applied for London, where the franchise has visited each year since 2013 and has already secured some local rights. Jaguars owner Shad Khan also owns Fulham F.C. of London, currently playing in the second division of English soccer.
But sources say that most teams that have participated so far have submitted proposals for Mexico, where they see viability and long-term economic success.
Dallas Cowboys COO Stephen Jones told Sportico last month that the team is planning to invest in sponsorship and partnership opportunities there. Sportico confirmed the Houston Texans and Pittsburgh Steelers are among the roughly half-dozen teams that applied for international HMA in Mexico.
According to a source, the Las Vegas Raiders did not submit this year but are also interested in planting roots in the federation, where they, like the Steelers, have a solid fan base. At least a dozen teams decided not to participate this year but could opt to submit next year.
Momentum has been building for some time since the NFL played its first game in Mexico City in 1978. The league began annually hosting games there in 2016 as part of the International Series, and despite a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, there’s a growing affinity for the other ‘football’ around the country.
Games in Mexico City typically draw large crowds. Azteca Stadium still holds the NFL attendance record with 112,376 in a preseason matchup between the Houston Oilers and Dallas Cowboys in 1994.
Based on a 2020 fan survey which included six regions, Brazil has the most NFL fans at 63.7 million, followed by Mexico (48.5 million), China (41.9 million) and Germany (19.2 million).
While there is no guarantee that games will be played in these markets, teams awarded international markets will be able to conduct business there, which includes potentially launching fan events, viewing parties, kids’ clinics, combines and possibly opening brick-and-mortar retail stores.
But football assets and HMA media rights remain limited. It’s not surprising that some of the teams have yet to file proposals coming off the tumultuous 2020 season. After the league reportedly lost nearly $4 billion, several teams are simply looking to stabilize business again and see making this investment right now to be a non-starter, especially since early revenue returns are likely to be insignificant.
The International Series continues in London, starting this Sunday as the Jets take on the Falcons at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. As the HMA program matures, the NFL could opt to take games elsewhere in coming years, including Germany or China. Nonetheless, Mexico early on has become the favorite among participating teams interested in drawing business outside of the United States.