If you’re planning to be parked in front of the television at 9:30 a.m. ET on Sunday watching the Ravens face off against the Jaguars in Wembley Stadium, you may ask yourself why the NFL puts its American fans through that rigamarole. There are a handful of reasons the NFL plays games in London each year, but they all come back to one thing: Establishing an permanent presence there.
How long has London played host? The London games in the International Series started in 2007 with a low-scoring affair between the Giants and Dolphins at Wembley Stadium. The Giants won, 13-10. Since 2007, the NFL has played 18 different international games — all but one in London — in an effort to win over new fans and potentially expand beyond the United States.
The series has grown over the years, going to two London games in 2013, and topping out at four games in London for the 2017 season.
London is a popular destination. There’s a ready-made audience there for American football and the turnout across the pond is always stellar.
Why London? Primarily because the league hopes to establish a permanent presence there someday, hopefully by 2022, according to Albert Breer of The MMQB. And the NFL has been strategic about the process.
It’s tested the viability of bringing West Coast teams over to London to play games. It’s created a four-year series of “home” Jaguars games in London to help figure out if that will make international fans more likely to support a particular team.
And it’s working, even if the NFL is losing money on the games in London, according to Bloomberg. The NFL has started to develop fans in the UK thanks to London playing host to games, which are also free to watch on BBC. That’s different than in the U.S., where advertising dollars are a huge factor in the NFL’s revenue. And you can expect it to change in England, as well. But the exposure has created a large number of loyal fans.
The games in London have been popular despite often featuring less competitive teams. The Jaguars have had nine consecutive losing seasons, but they’ve gained fans in London after playing there once a season since 2013. The Jaguars recently extended their agreement with the NFL to host a game in London through 2020.
What about other countries? The league’s efforts to expand its brand aren’t limited to London. In 2005, Mexico City hosted the first regular season NFL game outside the U.S. The Cardinals beat the 49ers in a lopsided 31-14 matchup. The Texans and Raiders played in Mexico City last season, and the Patriots will face the Raiders there in Week 11 this year.
The NFL has had its eye on China and Germany, as well. There was a plan to host a game in China in 2018, but that has been pushed back, maybe to 2019.