MUNICH (AP) — The NFL plans to play more regular-season games in Germany, possibly sooner than expected.
League commissioner Roger Goodell told a fan forum in Munich on Saturday that the NFL will host “at least” four games in Germany through 2025.
The current deal includes the first Sunday game in Germany plus an annual game for the next three seasons, with Munich and Frankfurt hosting twice each.
“In our commitment, we’re going to play the next four years, at least, and with at least four games,” Goodell said before Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks at Allianz Arena. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it expanded beyond that at some point soon.”
The commissioner did not respond to media questions, but his comments could reflect that both the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs are pushing for next year’s game.
There are also questions about the availability of the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City in 2023. Azteca, which will host the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals on November 21, could be under renovation next year in preparation for the Copa del Rey. World of 2026.
Germany has become the NFL’s biggest market in Europe. and Munich has been talking all week about Sunday’s game, headlined by seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady.
If league officials seek to extend beyond four years, they would have no problem finding more partners. In addition to Munich and Frankfurt, Düsseldorf had made it to the short list of eight German cities that had initially applied to host games.
“What the commissioner and we feel is the enthusiasm of our teams to play here, especially those clubs that have the international area of local marketing rights in Germany,” said Peter O’Reilly, executive vice president of club and event business at the NFL league.
Those rights allow teams to cultivate fans and sign business deals in the country. The Bucs, Chiefs, Patriots and Carolina Panthers have rights in Germany. AFC teams will have Game 9 at home next season as part of the expanded schedule, establishing the Chiefs and Patriots as a possible home team in Germany.
“We both want to be there and we both see the opportunity, so we’ll put our best cases to be there and the league will make a decision,” Chiefs president Mark Donovan told The Associated Press.
Initially, the Chiefs were “very disappointed that we didn’t get the game this year,” Donovan said.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft has spoken in the past about Germany’s potential, saying the Patriots have the largest fan base there.
Mexico is a big market for the NFL and nine teams have marketing rights in the country. O’Reilly, as he did in a midweek media call, referred Azteca’s questions to stadium officials there.
The league will work out its 2023 international game schedule in the coming months, O’Reilly said, adding that if there is a problem with Azteca, “it would be important to have a clear sense for the Super Bowl.”
Any additions to the current four-match plan will need to be negotiated with the German Football League and will require space on the football calendar.
“Like the puzzle that is an NFL schedule, the DFL schedule is also a puzzle,” O’Reilly said.
NFL IN EUROPE
Goodell has used fan forums to hint at what the league is dreaming about in Europe.
In London, which has been hosting regular-season games since 2007, Goodell floated the idea of a full European division of teams, not just whether a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars would make the jump to full-time.
“We’ve talked about, could you expand the league? But this is all in conceptual stages,” Goodell said Saturday.
“Are there markets here in Europe that could support an NFL team? I have said quite often that I believe that to be the case. As we do our games in Germany, I think we will find several cities that will be able to host an NFL game or an NFL team on a regular basis.”
The league’s main concern with a European-based team is competitiveness, especially with an unpredictable playoff schedule.
“Do you bring teams more often? Do you play nine or 10 games with different teams? Or do you put a team here and let them play? How do you do that to make it competitively fair for that team, because that would be one of our 32 teams or if it expanded,” Goodell said.
“But the reality is that it will probably happen one day in some way, but I think we’ll have to progress to that point.”
AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL