Like any of its teams, the NFL doesn’t want to become complacent in the wake of past success.
The league has come a long way from the first Super Bowl, when tickets sold for $12 and the Los Angeles Coliseum wasn’t filled to capacity. These days, the NFL is a ratings and licensing behemoth, but like any good business, the league wants more.
The logical solution is to expand internationally and extend the season, allowing for more televised games and building what executives hope will be a growing fan base overseas. The Kansas City Chiefs, a team that played in that very first Super Bowl (it wasn’t really called that at the time), also features prominently in this growth strategy.
Patrick Mahomes and company take their show on the road tonight, not to Denver or Oakland but to the friendly confines of Estadio Azteca to take on the Los Angeles Chargers in Mexico City. There’s even some talk of one day relocating a team to London, where the NFL has played games since 2007.
NFL football clearly dominates the top notch of America’s sports landscape, but the same can’t be said for international markets. Based on global website traffic, NFL football trails soccer, NBA basketball, Formula 1 racing and even cricket in global interest. The NBA, in particular, enjoys a worldwide audience and fills its rosters with stars from Europe and Latin America.
The NFL, in contrast, sent Europe the wretched refuse of its rosters in the money-losing World League of American Football/NFL Europa experiment. The league pulled the plug in 2007.
Closer to home, some NFL executives want to cash in on domestic fan interest with a proposal to extend the regular season of 16 games, hoping to increase the U.S. TV market while chasing that elusive dream of global interest. Last week, Chiefs Owner Clark Hunt endorsed the extended regular season proposal, saying it would “give the league more inventory to play more international games.”
Our advice to the ownership is to be careful what you wish for. Last Thursday, a global audience would have witnessed an NFL game that resembled something from “The Jerry Springer Show,” with an on-field melee and one player pounding another’s unprotected head with a helmet. Unless your target market is the British soccer hooligan, it’s not the best brand-building exercise.
We’re sure executives and league officials will make a show of zero tolerance in the upcoming disciplinary actions. But last Thursday night’s fiasco in Cleveland shows that the NFL has lots to clean up on and off the field before giving more of the same to U.S. fans and European and Mexican maybe-someday fans.
One or two more regular season games like what we saw last week? No thanks, we’re good with 16.