Every business wants to grow. Professional sports are no exception. How do professional sports grow? By going international. Isn’t the goal of every business to take over the world, or come as close as they can to it? Professional sports are no different.

In the last generation, basketball has exploded in popularity. Since the Dream Team at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, the NBA has absorbed an influx international talent that has never been seen. Once the international youth of the early ‘90s saw the greatest team ever assembled, they realized they could easily erect a hoop, inflate a ball, and imitate their newfound hardwood idols. The international stars of today learned from their exposure to Jordan, Bird, Magic, Barkley, Robinson, and the rest of the Dream Team.

The way a sport grows internationally is through exposure, which modern media accomplishes, but also ease of access. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world because it’s the most basic in its objective and because it can be played virtually anywhere. Get a flat space, something to kick, a couple of goals, and you’re set. Basketball is not much different. Construct something resembling a basket, grab a few players with an inflatable ball, and you’re set. The accessibility and simplicity of these sports are going to appeal to any population, rich or poor, across the world. This is why soccer and basketball are the prime international sports of today.

The NFL notices the international popularity of other sports. An increase in popularity means an increase in exposure. An increase in exposure quickly leads to an increase in dollars. Of course, the NFL wants a piece of this pie. The fundamental problem is: Football is a national sport. It’s American, and nothing else. The rest of the world does not have the means, nor interest, in adopting this sport as voraciously as the United States has. This is a fact. It’s accepted and expected. America prides itself on being different in a noticeable manner. What better representation exists than that of American football? It essentially yells to the rest of the world that it can create its own sport that models the closest thing to modern day gladiators, throws them in giant arenas with rabid fans, and rakes in the excesses of money and fandom while creating near deities out of mortal men. Only in America.

The NFL, drunk off its national popularity, is looking for more. More, more, more. Can you blame them? “We are the biggest sport in America, but the other leagues are getting more attention and money abroad. Why can’t we get a cut of that too?” That has been a primary focus of the league and owner’s meetings over the past decade. Hence the international games across the pond in London and the occasional advertisement in Mexico City to try and build an “international” brand.

The results of these games have added a few bucks to the NFL Shield, but have done little more. The United Kingdom has been, and always will be, a soccer nation, because of interest. Mexico will always be a soccer nation because of the lack of resources to adopt a more expensive sport like football. Watch any game internationally and it’s nothing but an arena of mostly clueless fans wearing random NFL jerseys distributed by the league to feign interest. International fans attend games out of curiosity of what the most influential country in the world is obsessing over. When the game is finished, they go back home, rich or poor, and look up the soccer or basketball scores. American football will never be their cup of tea, or tequila, or whatever else, and they know it.

Finally, this circles back to what Mark Murphy, CEO of the Green Packers, mentioned at the latest stockholders meeting in Green Bay. He stated that Green Bay will never give up a home game to play internationally. Murphy is a businessman and also knows what the fans want.

  1. Of course the Packers fanbase would be livid if a home game was stripped away. There are only eight guaranteed home games per year. Wisconsin expects at least eight regular season games and one home playoff game annually.
  2. Murphy knows that the international push is a farce. The NFL will do anything to grab a few more bucks, so why not send the Jaguars and Browns overseas to “wow” the foreigners and rack in a few more bucks than when the two doormats face off against each other on early December day in Cleveland? It’s a solid business decision.

Mark Murphy stirred the pot in his “no international home games” statement to home fans to ensure the revenue keeps pouring in on the home front. The ultimate goal is to dangle the idea out there that if a fanbase doesn’t show up and pour the money into ticket sales for the home team, then they could lose a game overseas to the Redcoats. Now that Los Angeles has professional football, that threat can no longer be issued. A team that doesn’t contribute is going to be shipped overseas when convenient in order to make up for their lack of income stateside.

The NFL is in the business of maximizing revenue. They are doing their homework in an era when a little homework pays dividends, and they will continue to push it.




John Piotrowski is a UW-Eau Claire alum, spending most of his life in western WI. He makes the trek east to Lambeau whenever possible. Follow him on twitter at @piosGBP.