NFL keeps its eye on the prize of growing its brand overseas in 2023 and beyond

·5 min read

Since 2007, the NFL has worked to increase football beyond the United States, establishing the NFL International Series to play games overseas. The first international game was played by the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 28, 2007, losing 13-10 to the New York Giants.

Beginning in 2013 — excluding the 2020 season, as international efforts were hindered due to the COVID-19 pandemic — the NFL has organized multiple games abroad every season in the United Kingdom, Mexico and Germany. The series has executed 38 games, scheduling the Dolphins five times — the last time in 2021.

Although Miami wasn’t selected as a home team for the five international games in 2023, the possibility of participating in the international festivities is alive, as they are scheduled to play three of the four home teams on the road — New England, Buffalo and Kansas City.

“Obviously, as we look ahead to 2023 games are one element of a broader year around international strategy coming off of the five games we played last year, which were record-breaking strong games,” said Peter O’Reilly, the executive vice president of club business, international and league events. “Excited for the five games in Europe, we have ahead of us this year — as you know, not playing in Mexico City because of the Estadio Azteca renovation.

“So two games in Germany, two games at Tottenham, the Jags at Wembley, the second year of their three-year deal for Wembley that’s outside of our traditional model,” O’Reilly said. “So, lots of momentum. Those opponents and exact dates won’t be announced until closer to the [2023 NFL] schedule release, but no lack of interest in clubs from wanting to engage and be part of those games.”

The location for the Dolphins’ potential international contest will depend on the opponent. If they match up against the Bills, they will play in London at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. But games against the Patriots or the Chiefs will take place in Frankfurt, Germany, at Deutsche Bank Park.

Historically, the NFL has avoided playing divisional games outside of the United States, scheduling only six in-division contests abroad. The Dolphins have participated in an international AFC East game, losing 27-14 against the Jets in 2015. Since then, the NFL has played only two more divisional contests, with the last game happening in 2021.

In addition to hosting global matches, the league has worked to increase accessibility to games inside the U.S., partnering up with DAZN, which is based in London and “is the world’s leading live sports streaming service,” according to its website.

“We talked a little bit about what we announced at Super Bowl, which is our direct consumer relationship with DAZN,” O’Reilly said. “DAZN is our game pass partner outside the US. Again, focused similar to our YouTube Sunday Ticket deal in the U.S. focus on providing more access to more fans outside the US and continuing to improve that product.”

In 2021, Miami became one of 18 teams to be granted international home marketing areas, broadcasting games across Brazil, the U.K. and Spain. Since then, the NFL has approved global rights to only one more club.

The away teams for all five international games will be announced around the same time as the release of the 2023 schedule, which is aimed to be revealed in May “taking it out of the shadow of the draft as we have in recent years into that early May window and creating an opportunity to create a lot of excitement for fans as they plan their fall.”

“We haven’t pinned down the exact schedule release, but it’ll be somewhere in that window … which is around where it was last year,” O’Reilly said. “And then whether it’s exactly on that date, or in the days leading up is when the opponents for those five international games and the weeks will be announced.”

Growth of international-born players

A part of the NFL’s global plan is to provide the tools for players outside of the U.S. to make the NFL. The hope for the committee is to increase the number of foreign-born players currently on NFL rosters.

The latest example of a foreign-born player is Jordan Mailata, who was born in Australia and was discovered playing rugby in Sydney. In the Eagles’ Super Bowl loss last month, Mailata started at left tackle.

“There were 89 foreign-born players who played at least one snap in the NFL this year,” O’Reilly said. “Really considering and working with the competition committee, the general manager advisory committee, the international committee on how do we expand that program to a place where all clubs have the opportunity to have potentially an international practice squad player and grow that pipeline.”

Flag football efforts continue

While international growth remains a focus for the NFL, it’s also working to grow the game domestically by working with the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) to increase awareness around flag football.

“Flag’s a huge priority in terms of growing the game globally that opportunity for girls and boys — men and women — to play the game and being introduced to the game around the world,” O’Reilly said. “Had a big year on that front.”

Miami’s Tyreek Hill is involved in the league’s flag football efforts, forming Tyreek Hill Flag Football, an NFL Flag Official League. Advertising efforts are at the forefront of this cause, as in Super Bowl 57, quarterback Diana Flores showed off flag football in the league’s commercial.

“Obviously, we used our biggest stages in the Pro Bowl and the spot you all saw on the Super Bowl with Diana Flores, the captain of the Mexican women’s team,” O’Reilly said. “So that momentum carries us forward.”

The goal for flag football is to grow enough domestically to become an Olympic sport for the 2028 Los Angeles games. If the sport makes it onto the Olympic slate, it’s possible for football to be on an international stage in America.