The NFL’s domestic business is as strong as ever, on track to hit its $25 billion annual revenue goal by 2027. The league sees its next step on the path to more money and greater longevity as successfully exporting its product overseas.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reemphasized at the Super Bowl that growing the game worldwide is a priority, even after a season that brought in more than $10 billion in revenue. With its U.S. male fanbase reaching the saturation point, the league is trying to build an engaged following in countries where American football is more novelty than pastime.
To that end, the NFL is doubling down on its investments in Germany—opening a new office there and playing its first regular-season games in the country over the next four seasons, starting this fall with two in Munich and two in Frankfurt. Arguably the most powerful country in Europe, Germany should serve as a springboard to more visibility and consumer spending throughout the continent.
“It’s an economic powerhouse with a sizeable population and affinity for the NFL,” NFL head of Europe and UK Brett Gosper said of Germany, which has the largest economy in the EU. “We’ve seen that through commercial outcomes (specifically) in our consumer products area.”
Gosper says Germany has the most Game Pass International subscriptions of any country outside of the U.S. Electronic Arts’ video game Madden NFL 2019 sold more than 15,000 units in its first week, about double the number in comparable European countries, according to sales tracking website VGChartz. Germany is also a leading international market for NFL Shop sales and fantasy football participation.
“We know the broadcast market, because of the receptiveness of the general public, would also grow in a short period of time from where it is,” said Gosper, who believes typical streams like ticket sales will be also factored in how the league measures early returns. “The games will assist in that.”
While there’s an appetite for American football, with the league claiming to have 19 million fans in Germany, the fanbase is not passionate about the game. German Sport University professor Sebastian Uhrich believes the NFL may gain incremental market share—potentially appealing to younger generations over time—but says breaking the dominance of soccer is complicated and unlikely.
That’s true throughout Europe, but the league is embracing the challenge and justifying the investment by weighing lifetime customer value. Still, winning commercially in Germany these first few years presents a tangible return on the NFL’s renewed continental emphasis after NFL Europe folded in 2007.
The NFL’s expansion of its International Series coincides with the recent launch of its home marketing area (HMA) initiative, which allows franchises to seek commercial opportunities in foreign markets.
The Chiefs, who have ties to FC Bayern Munich through owner Clark Hunt, are prioritizing Germany early on and have already been in talks with native content and B2B companies. Chiefs CMO Lara Krug said being one of only four NFL teams licensed in the country allows them to set a strong foundation early in their five-year agreement.
“We have ambition of becoming one of the world’s teams,” Krug said. “So, for us, we need fandom to grow everywhere that we can.”
The move overseas not only bodes well for expanding the league’s global reach but provides opportunities for sponsors. South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co., which sponsors the Sunday Night Football kickoff show, is eyeing potential marketing activations in what some consider the auto capital of the world.
Elsewhere, Hyundai has team deals with the Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Chargers, Chicago Bears, Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Philadelphia Eagles and Houston Texans. Those are seven of the 18 NFL teams that were approved for HMA rights across eight countries, from China to the United Kingdom, where the league has held regular season games annually since 2007.
Gosper says roughly 6,000 German fans travel to London for the International Games series. He expects some Brits to return the favor in Germany, and that Irish, Italian, Nordic and Dutch fans will make their way to Munich, a public transport hub. France and Spain are potential expansion markets, so visitors from those countries will seed fandom ahead of yet-to-be-announced games.
“It becomes a European rendezvous, along with the huge number of Americans that come across to accompany their teams,” Gosper said.
While the NFL is ambitious for what it can accomplish long-term in Germany, with teams eventually hosting their own fan events and potentially opening brick-and-mortar stores through their HMA licenses, Uhrich and others are skeptical about how much American football will be taken seriously.
“It’s merely speculation that the [NFL] can beat handball, basketball or any of the other second-tier sports,” he added.