The National Football League continues to try to grow the popularity of its sport outside the United States. VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer reports from Phoenix that the league has announced that team owners have approved a multi-year agreement to play games in Britain.
This season was the first time that the NFL scheduled a regular season game across the Atlantic Ocean. And the October 28 contest between the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins was a huge success. It drew a sell-out crowd of more than 81,000 to London's Wembley Stadium, where the Giants prevailed, 13-10.
Since the Giants have reached this year's Super Bowl here against the undefeated New England Patriots, NFL teams can make no argument that playing so far from home in the middle of the season would hurt their playoff chances.
Mark Waller of NFL International said there will be one regular season game in each of the next three years in Britain. "We're still in our infancy of growth, and this initiative is hugely important, particular for generating TV audience and Internet audience for us. I'm very pleased with how we're doing, but we've got a lot of growth to go," he said.
Next season the NFL teams selected to play at Wembley on October 28 are the San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints.
Waller told VOA Sports it's a great match-up for international fans.
"I think the fact that we've been able to get a team like New Orleans, which can showcase itself as a city is huge, and also the fact that we've been able to get a west coast team (San Diego) to make that trip. So I think it really shows our commitment, as does the three-year commitment."
Team officials from both the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers, who are here to attend Sunday's Super Bowl, said they were excited to have been selected to play in London next season.
Waller said there is a possibility that the NFL could hold a game in Mexico in 2009. "We want to play in Mexico. We had a great experience in 2005, and we would love to go back in 2009. There's a question of making sure we can get the right venue with the right broadcast coverage. That's key for us," he said.
It's not a question of popularity. When the league played its first-ever regular season game outside the United States in Mexico City in 2005, that contest between the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers drew a record crowd of nearly 103,500 fans.
The NFL's Buffalo Bills are popular north of the border, and NFL ownership has already approved a Bills' team initiative to play one regular-season home game in Toronto, Canada in each of the next five seasons.