NEW YORK -- Commissioner Roger Goodell casually mentioned last month the NFL's interest in adding more international games. He mentioned potential contests in Germany, Mexico and Brazil.
Sure, the league has been thoroughly satisfied with its series of game at Wembley Stadium, with three more London matches set for the 2015 season. The appetite for more global expansion has been whetted, though, and while future games in the United Kingdom pretty much are a certainty, events along the Rhein or in Rio might loom, too.
"From a London perspective, we continue to be very pleased with the demand of the three games for this year," said Mark Waller, the NFL's executive vice president for international. "We already are in great shape and sold out. ... All of that continues to go very well from a demand standpoint, commercial standpoint. From a UK perspective, we are very committed to the games and that agenda.
"As for where we go next? We started the work that really looks at Germany, Mexico, potentially Brazil. Those are probably the three markets where we are most likely to play an international series game next, outside of the UK.
"That doesn't mean we are not looking at what more could we do to grow other aspects of what we do regardless of whether we play games in a market. For an example, in Germany, can we get better free-to-air media coverage for our season? What are some alternative ways to get more content to our avid fans?"
Avid is relative, of course. Fans in Munich don't go crazy for any of the 32 NFL teams the way they do for Bayern. But there's enough interest in the country that preliminary probes into staging a regular-season game there are underway.
"I think we have heard from at least three or four cities and stadiums in Germany about hosting a game," Waller said. "I don't think there is any doubt we could play a game in Germany and be successful selling it out. Any reservations we have are not about playing a game and about the venue, but reservations are much more how to make sure fans in that market can engage with and follow the NFL on an ongoing basis."
Mexico is an entirely different situation. The fan base is large -- Waller estimates it to be bigger than anywhere outside of the United States. There are sponsors with high interest in pro football. The league's architectural consultant, Populous, has looked at several venues, including Azteca Stadium and Stadio Olympico in Mexico City. Monterrey and Guadalajara also could be in the picture to host a game.
The only regular-season contest played in Mexico was in 2005 at Azteca, a home game for Arizona in which the Cardinals beat the 49ers 31-14 before more than 103,000. In the last decade, though, the Mexican facilities haven't kept up with the technological advances the NFL requires.
So Waller and NFL executives from various departments -- operations, security, technology and broadcast -- have visited the Mexico City stadiums.
"We're at the point today of waiting for a report back from Populous, which will highlight what we think needs to get done in either Azteca or the Olympic stadium," Waller said. "They will definitely need work to be done; our thinking is particularly for an ongoing series of games being played. We can make most stadiums work as a one-off, but if we want to play consistently there is probably work to do be done on either of those stadiums."
There also are economic issues to consider in Mexico and Brazil, which is being targeted as a potential host of the Pro Bowl as early as 2017. Mexico has dropped out of hosting some international championships in other sports because of financial problems. And Brazil will follow hosting the 2014 World Cup with staging the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, both involving tremendous expenditures.
Waller will be meeting this month with stadium officials in Rio, as well as some of the NFL's corporate partners.
"We need to gauge is there interest for us to go down there? We want everyone involved to be comfortable with it," he said. "I am trying to get a better understanding of the popularity that seems to be emerging for us and what is driving that in Brazil?"
But why the Pro Bowl, which doesn't carry much cachet with American audiences anymore?
"Specifically to the Pro Bowl, our thinking is if you have a new market that is starting to become interested, the Pro Bowl might be a very good way for fans to get more acquainted with the NFL," Waller said. "Lots of star players are playing in the game, from probably all 32 teams as well, in a much more relaxed and informal, helmets-off atmosphere for a lot of the time.
"It's a way to introduce people to the teams and the star players, which might be a pretty good way to do that."
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