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Roger Goodell's International Vision Includes a Team in England

Oct 30, 2010 – 12:30 PM
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Chris Harry

Chris Harry %BloggerTitle%

Fish and chips, a pint or two, and a dud football game.

Sounds like the NFL in late-October, London-style.

Let's see, the Denver Broncos (2-5) vs. the San Francisco 49ers (1-6) at Wembley Stadium. Another big-ticket international showdown, another ho-hum matchup.

And sellout.

A crowd of more than 85,000 is expected Sunday to see quarterback Troy Smith make his debut for the slumping 49ers and the reeling Broncos try to bounce back from the worst drubbing in franchise history. Not exactly a marquee matchup, but apparently the "Who" doesn't matter as much as the "What" when it comes to NFL International.

Does America's version of football play Ringo to the John, Paul, George and Man U's of the Premier League? Of course, it does. But NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is a visionary. The man sees (and gets) Super Bowls in New York, for goodness sakes, so you better believe he looks across the Atlantic Ocean and sees a wealth of untapped revenue.

Along with a future NFL franchise.

"I think the next step will be multiple games," Goodell said Friday of the league's international series during a Global Sports Panel Discussion in London. "And if that's successful then I think the idea of a franchise here is realistic."

Call me a traditionalist, but the thought of some team called the London Bridges or United Kingdom Kings playing a big NFC East showdown against the rival Philadelphia Eagles on "Monday Night Football" ... well ... let's just say I just can't.

But Goodell sees thousands of European fans and hundreds of media types traveling across their continent to be a part of the weekend festivities -- if not the game -- reinforces his global initiative strategy.

The opponents (and their records) clearly do no matter.

This week's teams have combined for only three wins, that's three more than a third of the previous six participating teams had when the NFL came across the pond the last three seasons.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were winless when they were blasted 35-7 by New England a year ago. In 2007, the Miami Dolphins were 0-7 (and on their way to a 1-15 record) when they lost 13-10 to the New York Giants (who went on to win the Super Bowl that year). In between, New Orleans beat the San Diego 37-32 in a matchup of 3-4 teams.

All three games were smashing successes for the NFL.

"I think it's clear from the experience we've had here in the UK that each year the different barometers indicate that our popularity continues to rise," said Goodell, who will no doubt have similar talking points next week when the Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears play in Toronto, part a deal cut by the Bills to take three home games to the domed Rogers Centre through 2012. "You have to build off of success and we're building off of that foundation.

"That doesn't mean you ignore the rest of the world. We're continuing to focus on how we bring our game to those markets. Technology is our friend in that case. We've used technology to reach more of our fans and we will continue to pursue the same types of strategies in other markets.

The NFL has satellite offices in the United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico, Japan and China, with sights set on playing more games in those countries (and others) in the future. If the league, as expected -- and encouraged by Goodell, who usually gets his way (just ask the competition and Super Bowl host committees) moves on with plans to expand to 18 games, that'll open the window more for the international experience.

And home games.

Nothing, though, can be done on this issue or many others until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached between the league and the players union.

But once the schedule is expanded to 18 games (a "fait accompli," according to some in league circles), a franchise in London will become a priority. It would also become an instant home team for an entire continent, if not a hemisphere.

"Don't mistake me as being patient," Goodell said. "However, I do believe that your decisions have to be made with a long term perspective. It doesn't mean that you're not going to push for success on every one of your initiatives, or you're not going to grasp at innovation and figure out how to do that as quickly as possible.

"But I think what we are doing is laying the foundation here for the NFL and for football fans around the globe long term – well beyond my years as commissioner. And that's a good thing. That's what you should be doing. It doesn't mean, though, that you can't have success. It doesn't mean that before I leave being commissioner of the NFL that we can't have a successful NFL franchise in London. It's very possible. That's part of my job – to make sure, if it is possible and if it is a good step for the NFL, that we do it."

In the interim, don't be surprised if the lowly Detroit Lions and catatonic Carolina Panthers are matched up at Wembley next.

The only surprise would be if it didn't sell out.
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