NFL owners to consider games played outside U.S.

NEW YORK -- NFL owners will consider next month whether to play two games a year outside the United States, starting with contests in Canada, Mexico, Britain and Germany.

The league has played numerous exhibition games overseas for the past two decades. The New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks will play a preseason game next August in Beijing.

But last year's San Francisco-Arizona game in Mexico City is the only regular-season match played outside the United States. It drew over 100,000 fans to Azteca Stadium.

Mark Waller, senior vice president of NFL International, said Thursday the league believes fans in a number of countries are now ready for the real thing. NFL games regularly have been televised live in Mexico and Canada and more recently in Europe, notably the
United Kingdom.

"The preseason games and American Bowl games have worked well to introduce fans to the game," Waller said. "Once fans have gotten to know it and understand it, they are very aware that the regular season, playoffs and Super Bowl are the real thing."

Waller already has spoken to the owners about the plan and received an enthusiastic response, with most of the questions about logistics rather than economics. Under the plan, which would probably be put in place for the 2007 season, there would be a rotation so that each team would lose only one home game every 16 years.

Coaches have tended to be less enthusiastic about going overseas, especially to Europe and Asia, primarily because of jet lag and travel time. Waller noted, however, that a trip to England or Germany isn't much different from a coast-to-coast trip.

League officials, who have been talking for years about regular-season overseas games, say that matches in Europe could be timed in a way that teams returning from them might go into a bye week. They are likely to be played in October, a period when the bye weeks always are in effect.

The plan, first reported by The Arizona Republic, will be discussed again during meetings in New Orleans on Oct. 24.