SBD/Issue 30/Leagues & Governing Bodies

NFL CMO Mark Waller Discusses Future League's Int'l Efforts

Waller Says Goal Is To End Up With Teams In
International Markets Playing As Part Of NFL
With the Patriots and Buccaneers Sunday marking the NFL's third straight year of playing a regular-season game in London, Editor-At-Large Terry Lefton sat down with NFL CMO Mark Waller earlier this week for an update on the league's international efforts.

Q: What's the end game for the NFL's overseas activity?

Waller: To end up with teams in international markets playing as part of the NFL. Like putting an NFL team in London -- I don't know when it will happen or if it will happen, but it is something no other North American league could do because of the [once a week] nature of football.

Q: How do you gauge the success of the NFL's recent overseas efforts?

Waller: From a fan perspective, it's whether can we grow a passionate fan base internationally that replicates in depth, if not in size and scale, what we have in the U.S. If you look at some of the metrics we are starting to get in the U.K., we are starting to get there. We have much more engagement, more people in the U.K. watching more NFL on TV, and the people watching the game have a deeper understanding of NFL football. What's missing for the fans there is a home team to root for, a team to identify with. So what we are talking about now is rather than have different teams go over every season, should we focus on specific teams going every year so we build local passion for specific teams? Look at the Toronto model with the Bills as an example. That's the next stage for us -- building that team-specific passion.

The other thing is having more games. Right now, the specific [ownership] resolution allows us to play up to two games a year -- that's not enough. As we look at the season restructuring [shortening the exhibition season and adding games to the regular season], is there a way to add significantly more overseas games and get fans there more excited?

Q: What are your specific expectations for Sunday's game?

Waller: Someone asked me what's going to happen at Wembley on Sunday if it's not a close game. My answer was that it will be packed 'til the end, because when you only get one game a year, you'll stay. But they should have more than one game a year, there should be more -- one's not enough to really grow the fan base. We need to find a way to give them more.

Q: The model used by the other U.S. leagues to penetrate overseas markets is to exploit foreign players within their own sports to win over fans from their native countries. That's not going to work for you in Britain, though perhaps it could in Australia.

Waller: I'm not convinced that model is the only model. When I was a kid, the team in your town had people on it from your town. Later, it was people from the U.K. Now the team in your town has the best athletes playing for your team. You don't need to feel that local identity with the athletes, as long as you have some of the best athletes playing for your team. It's a model used by Chelsea, Real Madrid, ManU, and even the Yankees: build a great product and people will root for the best when its flying their local colors.

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