Super Bowl: almighty in the United States, the NFL dreams of elsewhere


At the height of its popularity in the United States, the professional American football league (NFL) still dreams of exporting itself beyond its borders, a complex challenge, which could be facilitated by the emergence of flag football, which some already see at the Olympic games.

A series of TV contracts signed in 2021 for 110 billion dollars, the most expensive sports team in the world, the Dallas Cowboys, estimated at 5.7 billion dollars by Forbes magazine, 22 of the 30 best audiences in the United States all programs combined last year: the NFL reigns supreme over American sport more than ever.

Dominating the world’s leading sports market, American football does not yet appear in the 10 most popular disciplines on the planet. The NFL reports 150 million overseas fans, equivalent to the number of fans in the United States (2017 Gallup poll).

The league has already sought several angles of attack to internationalize, beyond the proximity markets of Mexico and Canada, starting with the creation, in 1991, of the World League (renamed NFL Europe then NFL Europa ), affiliated European minor league.

But in 2007, the NFL disconnected the NFL Europa, which was losing around 30 million dollars per season, refocusing its strategy on its own championship, betting on the development of streaming and relocated matches, with regular season meetings in London (up to four in 2019) and in Mexico City.

– Heading for Germany –

NFL boss Roger Goodell during a press briefing dedicated to promoting the Super Bowl in Inglewood on February 9, 2022 (Getty/AFP/Archives - Rob Carr)

NFL boss Roger Goodell during a press briefing dedicated to promoting the Super Bowl in Inglewood on February 9, 2022 (Getty/AFP/Archives – Rob Carr)

« International remains a very important area of ​​growth for the league, » vice-president Peter O’Reilly told AFP. « We know that the fan community grows when stronger bonds are established with the teams. »

Heading now to Germany, the NFL also announced on Wednesday, with one game per year until 2025.

It is about creating « partnerships » with the host cities, Munich and Frankfurt, « which will go beyond the matches and help us to accelerate our development », explained Brett Gosper, responsible for the NFL in Europe.

To strengthen this link with the rest of the world, the league has also relied, since 2017, on the International Player Pathway, which selects foreign players, then tested by a championship team.

To truly establish itself in Europe, « it will require a much greater investment and a much longer-term commitment than what the NFL is ready to do », estimates however Andrew Zimbalist, professor of economics at Smith College (Massachusetts) .

For him, the league’s new outlets remain in the United States, in the development of the relationship with the world of sports betting, authorized only since 2018. « This is the path to growth and income », insists- he.

The betting operators have, it is true, already put more than a billion dollars on the table to establish various partnerships with the NFL.

But Pierre Trochet, president of the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), has seen the international audience for the Super Bowl expand « for four or five years ».

– The « flag » revolution –

Los Angeles Rams training session at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, February 10, 2022 (Getty/AFP - KEVORK DJANSEZIAN)

Los Angeles Rams training session at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, February 10, 2022 (Getty/AFP – KEVORK DJANSEZIAN)

« For us, the consequences of the development of the NFL translates into the number of teams, players, countries » who participate in international competitions in American football, but also in flag football.

The latter, a lighter version of the discipline, is on the rise and its world championship, disputed in Israel last December, brought together 46 teams. « Almost double » the previous edition, in 2018, argues Pierre Trochet.

No expensive equipment, no extended staff (5 players minimum, against more than 50), the « flag » also benefits from simplified rules, when those of American football are very complex. And it also has the advantage of prohibiting any contact, avoiding the delicate subject of the health of the players.

Cincinnati Bengals star Joe Burrow training for the Super Bowl final at UCLA on February 10, 2022 (Getty/AFP - RONALD MARTINEZ)

Cincinnati Bengals star Joe Burrow training for the Super Bowl final at UCLA on February 10, 2022 (Getty/AFP – RONALD MARTINEZ)

« On a global scale, the opportunity to have a global sport is flag football, very clearly », says the IFAF president, about a game whose potential for female practice is incomparably superior to American football.

The IFAF, with the support of the NFL, aims to bring flag football to the Olympics.

« The road is very long », warns Pierre Trochet, but « all things considered, Los Angeles 2028 can be for the + flag + and for American football in general, what Barcelona 1992 was for basketball. »

Laisser un commentaire