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Volume 23 No. 18
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Where to next? NFL’s future includes London, Mexico and China

The NFL is playing three regular-season games in London this year, and one in Mexico, making the four games the most the league has played thus far outside the U.S. The league is committed to playing two games at a new Tottenham stadium starting in 2018 and wants to stage a game in China in two years. SportsBusiness Journal’s Daniel Kaplan caught up with the NFL’s resident global traveler, Executive Vice President of International Mark Waller. Highlights include his strong belief that it would be better to have a franchise in London than simply stage multiple games, flexibility where in China a game might get played, and a renewed focus on Canada.

With so much going with the NFL and international, what is the priority right now?

WALLER: The core priority I would sort of describe as twofold. The first is build off the momentum we have generated out of playing regular-season games, so we feel strongly now that taking regular-season games outside of the U.S. is definitely a great way to accelerate our rate of growth. We feel confident we have proven that out in the U.K. We feel very good about the response to the Mexico game. We want to make sure as we look further afield so we are able to build on that strategy.

Waller

Priority focus No. 2, as we grow our base around the world, is making sure fans can be in contact and be connectedwith our content wherever they are and whatever they are doing. So the use of digital media, the live distribution of games on Game Pass, the development of social media content that reaches globally but talks to fans in their local language with locally created content, is sort of a really important phase two.

How distributed is Game Pass?

WALLER: We are already growing that fan base consumption at about 20 percent a year and have done so for the last three or four years.

Where are you on preparing for China?

WALLER: A lot of work to do from the league perspective to make sure that if we are going to take that game on in the time frame we discussed that we are confident in our ability to schedule the game and then have the teams return and continue to be competitive. One of the things that gets underestimated a lot is our season is so short and every game is so important.

We have got two years so if there was a scheduling change (like a Tuesday or Wednesday game) we wanted to make as a one-off, we have the opportunity to do that and we have the time to discuss that with our owners and our broadcast partners.

Have you settled on a Chinese city?

WALLER: We have not made a determination on the venue.

The NFL now plays three regular-season games in London.
Photo by: Getty Images
What is your opinion on whether the league should locate a franchise in London or play an increasing number of games there with different teams?

WALLER: I have a personal opinion — I am not sure that it matters. I have a personal opinion that the greatest level of fandom occurs when you have a team to root for, and so ultimately for me the best expression is when you have your own team. If we can ever get to that in the U.K., that would be the best demonstration of fan passion.

What other areas are you focusing on?

WALLER: Re-energizing, for want of a better word, doing more in Canada I think is an important area of focus as I go into 2016. We have a very strong fan base there. We have great distribution of our media content through a number of partners. But I feel there is more we could and should be doing. … We just hired a new managing director for that market [former Coke executive David Thomson].