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Starting in the 2007 season, the National Football League (NFL) has hosted regular season American football games outside the United States every year. Collectively officially known through 2016 as the NFL International Series, from 2017 the series currently has two sub-series, the NFL London Games in London, which has been in place since 2007, and the NFL Mexico Game in Mexico City, which began in 2016 with a predecessor game in 2005.
Initially, all games in the International Series were held in London. Wembley Stadium was the exclusive home stadium for International Series games from 2007 to 2015 and will continue to host NFL games through at least 2020; beginning in 2016, the series began expanding to more stadiums, first to Twickenham Stadium, London (2016-18) and to Estadio Azteca, Mexico City (2016-) and will eventually expand to the still under construction new stadium at Northumberland Park also in London (2018-27), with possible future plans to expand the series to Germany and/or Canada.
Prior to 2005, the NFL's primary method of promoting its game abroad was through the American Bowl, a series of preseason games played around the world, and NFL Europe, a developmental league based in Europe. The American Bowls ended in 2005 (though a similar China Bowl was planned for 2007 before being canceled), while NFL Europa (as it was known for its final season) folded in 2007. On October 2, 2005, the Arizona Cardinals defeated the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 31-14 at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, Mexico under the name NFL Fútbol Americano. It was the first regular season NFL game held outside the United States. The game drew the NFL's highest game attendance at the time with 103,467 spectators.
Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League, has considered expanding the league's appeal overseas ever since the end of NFL Europa. Goodell has openly discussed the idea of holding a future Super Bowl game in London. The NFL also investigated the possibility of adding a 17th regular season game to all teams, taking the place of the fourth pre-season game. Waller notes that there will not be 16 different venues for the 17th games. More likely would be a "mini-season ticket" of perhaps four games in one city or country. There was discussion that this "17th game" could take effect as early as the 2009 NFL season; however, 2010 would be the earliest this could be implemented because of concerns about playing on Labor Day or over the 2010 Winter Olympics, the league's rigid scheduling formula, and the league's collective bargaining agreement (CBA). League officials were pondering moving a second existing game abroad for the 2010 season, but eventually abandoned it due to the ongoing CBA negotiations. The league eventually abandoned its attempt to expand the NFL season via CBA negotiations, and the new CBA enacted in 2011 has kept the NFL schedule at 16 games as of 2017.
Games in the United Kingdom are broadcast by the BBC and Sky Sports either live on BBC2 or online via the BBC Sports website and interactive TV and on Sky Sports Action. On radio the games are broadcast by BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, with Arlo White commentating.
The games have been popular, with tickets for the two games per season selling out in two days, nine months in advance. According to the NFL, only 3% of those attending the London games are Americans or American expatriates, while 22% are from London and 60% from elsewhere in Britain. Ticket prices are from £35 for end zone seats to £100 for lower sideline seats. A team that plays a home game in London sells a cheaper season ticket package for its own stadium with seven regular season games rather than the usual eight. Each designated home team receives US$1 million for giving up the home game.
On October 11, 2011, the NFL owners approved playing NFL games in Great Britain through the year 2016. This stated that a home team could visit every year for up to five years but visitors could only visit once every five years. However, in 2015 the Detroit Lions returned to London as visitors in an apparent disregard for this rule. Subsequently, an agreement has been reached to play internationally through 2025.
The Buffalo Bills received a unanimous vote of approval to play a series of regular and preseason games at Rogers Centre in Toronto from 2008 to 2017. This was separate from the regular International Series as arrangements are made by the team as opposed to the league as with the International Series. The Bills' Toronto Series was mutually terminated after the 2013 contest.
Due to significant time zone differences, from 2007-2015 teams playing in London would have their bye week in the following week after their game in London. For 2016, the Indianapolis Colts volunteered to play a game the week after their London game, preferring to have their bye week later in the season. The Colts playing the week after London was also done by the NFL as a test to see team fatigue for evaluation of an eventual London franchise. As Mexico City is within the Central Time Zone--eight NFL teams play home games in Central Time and the rest are within two hours of it--no bye week would be needed for those teams, though they may still by chance be scheduled their regular bye week anyway. For 2017, three teams playing in London (Baltimore, Jacksonville, and Miami), will have games immediately following their International Series game. In all three cases, the teams playing after their International Series game are based on the East Coast of the United States and will either be home or (in the Jaguars case) playing in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Due to NFL rules, teams that are playing in temporary homes or that have recently been awarded the Super Bowl are required to play a home game internationally. The Los Angeles Rams, upon relocating from St. Louis, agreed to host an international game from 2016-2019, while their new stadium is being built. The Los Angeles Chargers, who will be sharing the stadium with the Rams once it is completed, will also host an International Series game in 2018 and 2019, only getting out of the 2017 game because the team had executed its out clause to move from San Diego after the 2017 International Series games had been announced. The rule wasn't in affect when the Minnesota Vikings were playing at TCF Bank Stadium while U.S. Bank Stadium was being built, although the team did give up a home game while they were still playing in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. It is also likely that the Oakland Raiders will host another game in either 2018 and 2019 (or both) due to their pending move to Las Vegas, but it is unknown whether the "temporary stadium" rule applies in that case.
The Miami Dolphins hosted the New York Giants at Wembley Stadium in London, England on October 28, 2007. The Giants defeated the Dolphins 13-10 in the first regular season NFL game held outside North America. The first 40,000 tickets sold out for the game in the first 90 minutes of sales. The game was aired regionally on Fox.
A single game was held in London each year through 2011. Like the 2007 game, each was televised nationally in England, but only regionally in the United States.
On January 20, 2012, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed that from 2012 to 2014, the St. Louis Rams would play one of their eight home games each year at Wembley Stadium. However, on August 13, 2012, the team announced that they would not play the proposed games in London in 2013 and 2014, only the 2012 game against the New England Patriots that had already been scheduled. Goodell had previously proposed the use of certain regular teams in the International Series in an effort to build a fan base for those teams, raising the prospect of a permanent NFL team on the British Isles.
The Jacksonville Jaguars took the Rams' place and agreed to play a home game in London for four seasons from 2013 through 2016. With this announcement also came news that the NFL were working to schedule a second UK game from 2013 onwards. (The Jaguars later extended their agreement with Wembley Stadium through 2020 in an agreement announced in October 2015.) In October 2012, it was announced that the Jaguars would host the San Francisco 49ers and the Minnesota Vikings would host the Pittsburgh Steelers, marking the first season with multiple games in London.
The NFL played three international games for the 2014 season, including one game with an earlier 9:30 am ET start, which allowed for an afternoon game, rather than an evening game, in London. This timeslot proved to be successful as all London games in 2015 and 2016 were also scheduled at 9:30 am ET. Three games were again scheduled in 2015 - including the series' first division game between the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins.
Between 2018 and 2027, at least two games each year will be played at Tottenham Hotspur's new stadium in Northumberland Park as part of an agreement between the NFL and Tottenham Hotspur. On October 7, 2015, the league announced that a resolution had been passed to schedule international games at additional locations to London until 2025. On October 22, 2015 it was confirmed that at least two games per year will remain at Wembley until through least 2020 and that the Jacksonville Jaguars will continue to play a home game there annually throughout the agreement. Subsequent to this, on November 3, 2015, the NFL announced that it had reached an agreement with England's Rugby Football Union to host regular season games at Twickenham Stadium from 2016 onwards, with a minimum of three, and as many as five games to be held over the initial agreement period of three years.
In 2016, the Oakland Raiders hosted the Houston Texans on November 21 at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, at the first International Series game played in Mexico. Previously, the Houston Texans and Pittsburgh Steelers had expressed interest in playing a game at Estadio Azteca (or possibly Estadio Olímpico Universitario) in Mexico City, although Houston was not prepared to give up a home date. It was televised as part of ESPN's Monday Night Football, marking the first MNF game broadcast from outside the United States, and ESPN's second broadcast from Mexico City since the 2005 Fútbol Americano game (which was televised as part of ESPN's former incarnation of Sunday Night Football).
The 2016 game between the Redskins and Bengals was the first International Series game to go into overtime, the first to end as a tie, and had at the time the highest attendance of all International Series games (later surpassed by the 2017 game between the Ravens and Jaguars, which drew an attendance of 84,592).
|2007||October 28||New York Giants||13||Miami Dolphins||10||London||Wembley Stadium||81,176||The Feeling||Fox|
|2008||October 26||San Diego Chargers||32||New Orleans Saints||37||London||Wembley Stadium||83,226||Stereophonics||CBS|
|2009||October 25||New England Patriots||35||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||7||London||Wembley Stadium||84,254||Calvin Harris||CBS|
|2010||October 31||Denver Broncos||16||San Francisco 49ers||24||London||Wembley Stadium||83,941||My Chemical Romance||CBS|
|2011||October 23||Chicago Bears||24||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||18||London||Wembley Stadium||76,981||Goo Goo Dolls||Fox|
|2012||October 28||New England Patriots||45||St. Louis Rams||7||London||Wembley Stadium||84,004||Train||CBS|
|2013||September 29||Pittsburgh Steelers||27||Minnesota Vikings||34||London||Wembley Stadium||83,518||Tinie Tempah||CBS|
|October 27||San Francisco 49ers||42||Jacksonville Jaguars||10||London||Wembley Stadium||83,559||Ne-Yo||Fox|
|2014||September 28||Miami Dolphins||38||Oakland Raiders||14||London||Wembley Stadium||83,436||Def Leppard||CBS|
|October 26||Detroit Lions||22||Atlanta Falcons||21||London||Wembley Stadium||83,532||Little Mix||Fox|
|November 9||Dallas Cowboys||31||Jacksonville Jaguars||17||London||Wembley Stadium||83,603||Joss Stone||Fox|
|2015||October 4||New York Jets||27||Miami Dolphins||14||London||Wembley Stadium||83,986||None||CBS|
|October 25||Buffalo Bills||31||Jacksonville Jaguars||34||London||Wembley Stadium||84,021||The Ohio State University Marching Band||Yahoo! Sports[A]|
|November 1||Detroit Lions||10||Kansas City Chiefs||45||London||Wembley Stadium||83,624||Madness||Fox|
|2016||October 2||Indianapolis Colts||27||Jacksonville Jaguars||30||London||Wembley Stadium||83,798||Robin Thicke||CBS|
|October 23||New York Giants||17||Los Angeles Rams||10||London||Twickenham Stadium||74,121||Craig David||NFLN[B]|
|October 30||Washington Redskins||27||Cincinnati Bengals||27||London||Wembley Stadium||84,448||Wessex Male Choir & US Army Europe band||Fox|
|November 21||Houston Texans||20||Oakland Raiders||27||Mexico City||Estadio Azteca||76,473||None||ESPN[C]|
|2017||September 24||Baltimore Ravens||7||Jacksonville Jaguars||44||London||Wembley Stadium||84,592||None||Verizon, Yahoo! Sports|
|October 1||New Orleans Saints||20||Miami Dolphins||0||London||Wembley Stadium||84,423||None||Fox|
|October 22||Arizona Cardinals||0||Los Angeles Rams||33||London||Twickenham Stadium||73,736||None||Fox|
|October 29||Minnesota Vikings||33||Cleveland Browns||16||London||Twickenham Stadium||74,237||None||NFLN|
|November 19||New England Patriots||Oakland Raiders||Mexico City||Estadio Azteca||CBS|
|Team||Appearances||W-L-T||Pct||Most recent appearance|
|New England Patriots||2||2-0-0||1.000||2012|
|New Orleans Saints||2||2-0-0||1.000||2017|
|New York Giants||2||2-0-0||1.000||2016|
|San Francisco 49ers||2||2-0-0||1.000||2013|
|Kansas City Chiefs||1||1-0-0||1.000||2015|
|New York Jets||1||1-0-0||1.000||2015|
|St.Louis/Los Angeles Rams||3||1-2-0||.333||2017|
|San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers||1||0-1-0||.000||2008|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||2||0-2-0||.000||2011|
As of the 2017 season, five of the 32 teams have not played in the International Series: The Carolina Panthers, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans. Seattle played a game outside the United States in 2012, but it was not part of the International Series. The Houston Texans have never played in London, but played an International Series game in Mexico City.
Before the Chargers and Saints were announced to be the two teams headed to London in 2008, the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks were identified as teams interested in playing a future game in Europe. In particular, Seattle, which had been slated to play the China Bowl before that game was cancelled, had shown a continued interest in playing a game abroad. Tampa Bay eventually got the 2009 and 2011 games, while Kansas City got one of the games in 2015. Both the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins have similarly expressed interest in returning to the UK in a rematch of 2007's international series. There have also been negotiations between the Pittsburgh Steelers (whose owner, Dan Rooney, was the United States Ambassador to Ireland) and Croke Park in Dublin, Republic of Ireland for a potential International Series game there.
The Rams and the Buccaneers are both under co-ownership with teams in the Premier League, the top association football league in England; the Rams are under co-ownership with Arsenal Football Club of London, while the Buccaneers are co-owned with Manchester United. From 2006 until 2012, the Cleveland Browns were also under co-ownership with Aston Villa before Randy Lerner sold the Browns to Jimmy Haslam, and since 2013, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan also owns Fulham F.C., which were at the time in the Premier League, but have since been relegated to the Football League Championship.
As part of their application to relocate to Los Angeles for the 2016 season, the Rams have volunteered to play in the International Series at least once a year while occupying the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for three seasons until their new stadium in Inglewood, California, opens in 2020.
In 2016, Steelers president Art Rooney II stated that the team may have to give up a home game to play in Mexico City in the future, with the team stating that they would require permission from the Sports & Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County to do so, as their lease at Heinz Field explicitly requires the team to play ten home games (8 in the regular season, 2 preseason) at that stadium per season.
Within the United Kingdom, aside from London, potential candidates for hosting NFL games include Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales; and Murrayfield in Edinburgh, Scotland. Other prime locations to get games would be Croke Park in the Republic of Ireland (Ireland has already hosted the NCAA Emerald Isle Classic, a college football game similar to the International Series, and Steelers owner Dan Rooney was once an ambassador to the country), Germany (which hosted five teams in NFL Europa at the time of its dissolution in 2007 and whose national American Football team won both the 2010 and 2014 European Championship), China;Brazil,Australia and Canada (Canada hosted the Bills Toronto Series from 2008 to 2013). Mark Waller, NFL senior vice president, international, doubts Asia or Australia would be targeted because of the travel concerns, but he does not dismiss anything. Until 2015 the Jacksonville Jaguars' agreement stipulated that all future International Series games in the current agreement would take place at Wembley, ruling out other locations. a The league had plans to host a game in China in 2018 with the Los Angeles Rams as the home team against the San Francisco 49ers. However, the game in Germany was scrapped in favor of adding a 4th game in London in 2017. The potential game in China was postponed (the third time the league has postponed playing in China, following failed attempts in 2007 and 2009) to being aimed for the 2019 season to coincide with the league's 100th anniversary. The league has indicated that a China game is still not certain because of the lack of a fan base in the country (NFL games are played in the middle of the night in China).
In regard to future games outside London or Mexico, Mark Waller stated in 2017 that the only holdup with games in Germany was what he dubbed "an inventory management thing. How many games do we actually have?"
The success of the International Series has led the NFL to focus its global expansion aims on the possibility of having a full franchise located in London. While no set timetable has been set, the league is working on a goal of establishing a franchise by around 2021, assuming they have all the necessary arrangements in place. It is believed this would be most likely achieved through relocation of an existing franchise, with the Jaguars most often linked due to their association with the International Series, even though their owner is said to be content with the current arrangement and other franchises have more reason to move (the most often cited being poor on-field performance, lack of fans and uncertainty over stadium leases). The NFL has used some of the specific arrangements for the International Series games as a test bed for predicting how a London franchise could be made effective from a logistical and competitiveness standpoint.