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Volume 20 No. 41
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Going long: the NFL’s global push

Aug. 16, 1976
The Mainichi Star Bowl, the first NFL game played outside of North America, is held in Tokyo, Japan.

Wembley Stadium in London hosts the NFL’s first game played in Europe.

Wembley hosts the first American Bowl, a series of international preseason games played annually until 2005.

Thirteen preseason games are played in Japan. The 2002 Washington Redskins-San Francisco 49ers matchup was played at the Osaka Dome, while the remaining 12 games were played at the Tokyo Dome.

Berlin’s Olympiastadion hosts a preseason game annually for five years.


The 10-team World League of American Football launches. The Barcelona Dragons, Frankfurt Galaxy and London Monarchs make up the European contingent, while the remaining seven clubs are based in North America.

Barcelona’s Estadi Olímpic hosts an annual preseason game.
The WLAF does not play any games during this time.

The NFL and Fox announce plans to form a joint venture to relaunch a six-team World League to begin play in Europe in April 1995.

Mexico hosts six preseason games during this span. The 1996 game was played in Monterrey, while the remaining were staged in Mexico City.

The WLAF resumes, adding the Amsterdam Admirals, Rhein Fire and Scottish Claymores to the returning three European clubs.

The Pittsburgh Steelers defeat the Chicago Bears at Croke Park in Dublin. Steelers owner Dan Rooney would go on to become the U.S. ambassador to Ireland in 2009.

Pete Stoyanovich of the Kansas City Chiefs kicks off to start a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers at Japan’s Tokyo Dome in August 1998.
Photo by: Getty Images

Prior to the season opener, the WLAF is rebranded as NFL Europe.

The Berlin Thunder begin play in NFL Europe.
Stadium Australia in Sydney hosts the first American pro football game to be held in the Southern Hemisphere, a preseason matchup between the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers. Chargers punter Darren Bennett is a Sydney native.

The Cologne Centurions begin play in NFL Europe.

The Hamburg Sea Devils begin play in NFL Europe.
Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium hosts the first NFL regular-season game ever played outside the U.S.
A total of 103,467 fans pack the stadium to watch the Arizona Cardinals defeat the San Francisco 49ers, in what was then the largest attendance for a regular-season game in NFL history.
The final American Bowl is played, as the Atlanta Falcons beat the Indianapolis Colts at the Tokyo Bowl in Japan.

A record crowd packs Mexico’s Azteca Stadium in 2005.
Photo by: Getty Images

NFL Europe is rebranded NFL Europa, but folds after the conclusion of the season.
The NFL launches the International Series as the New York Giants defeat the Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium in London.
The China Bowl, a proposed NFL preseason exhibition game that was to kick off the one-year countdown before the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, and would have been the first NFL-sanctioned game in China, is postponed and eventually canceled.

The NFL begins to allow the Jacksonville Jaguars to market their brand and sell commercially in the United Kingdom, becoming what is believed to be the first U.S. sports team of any league with significant overseas sales and sponsorship rights. The Jaguars will begin playing annually one game a season in London from 2013 through 2016.

The International Series expands to three games, all at Wembley Stadium: Week 4 (Oakland Raiders-Miami Dolphins), Week 8 (Atlanta Falcons-Detroit Lions), Week 10 (Dallas Cowboys-Jacksonville Jaguars). AON, Thomson Sport and Virgin Atlantic are U.K.-based sponsors of the series.

Sources:, SportsBusiness Journal archives