The NFL is North America’s most popular sports league. Not only does it perform well in terms of fan count and fan participation, but the league is also incredibly lucrative. The Super Bowl generates close to $15 billion in consumer revenue. But aside from a few big-name commercials and a high-production halftime show, the focus is kept squarely on football.
Domestic interest in professional football has only grown in the last few years. Back in 2018, the US Supreme Court lifted a federal ban on sports betting. That means that football fans can find up to date lines on gridiron throughout the year—even during the offseason. And when the regular season does start, thousands of fans dive into fantasy leagues and DFS competitions.
Clearly, the NFL has a strong hold on sports fans in North America, even sharing some crossover appeal with Canada’s CFL fandom. But for a league with the reach, pockets, and popularity of the NFL, why stop in North America? For the last twenty years, the NFL has been pushing for expansion abroad.
While the going has been slow, there’s now enough interest in American football internationally that some teams are building a global following.
An Increasingly Crowded Domestic Market
While the NFL dominates North American sports headlines and attention, it’s not the only sheriff in town. In fact, there’s never been a busier time for pro football fans. In 2022, Fox Sports launched its summer USFL pro football league. This spring, the XFL is planning to relaunch its spring league.
Then, of course, there’s the ever-present CFL. Between all four leagues, North American football fans have unprecedented access to football content. But this may result in over-saturation, even for the most hardcore football fan.
In an increasingly crowded domestic market, it’s good business sense for the NFL to attempt to spread its influence abroad. But will it succeed where interest in American football is minimal?
Goodell Goes International
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is currently preparing to run for one last stretch as the league’s leader. While it looks likely that Goodell will receive the stamp of approval from NFL owners who want him in charge (aside from Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones), his plans with the International Series are still in their infancy.
Since 2007, the NFL has hosted games in Europe and Mexico. This year, three games were hosted in October in London, Mexico City, and Munich. These regular-season exhibition games will continue to expand. This year, Goodell also sketched out a marketing rights scheme that allocates certain markets for certain teams.
That marketing clause is important, as it’s one of Goodell’s primary methods to expand interest. In addition to hosting games in Mexico, the UK, and Germany, teams now have specific rights to host in-person events, sponsorships, and merchandise sales around the world, including in countries like Brazil, China, Ghana, New Zealand, and Spain.
These are the teams that have managed to generate the most interest in the last few years, based on global internet searches and social media traffic.
The Miami Dolphins may be one of the NFL’s unluckiest teams over the last two decades, but international fans are on their side. The UK, in particular, seems to have attached itself to the team. Throughout 2021, UK search engine reports found that the Miami Dolphins were the most-searched team with close to 70,000 searches.
London fans, in particular, have been able to catch the team live since they first played in the city back in 2007. The International Series has done its job in helping expand interest in the NFL—and in the Dolphins. Outside the UK, the Dolphins were the most-searched team in Panama and New Zealand, as well.
Green Bay Packers
If the UK has glommed on to the Miami Dolphins, then Germany is the clear champion of the Green Bay Packers. Worldwide, the Packers had the second-highest search volume at just over 3.4 million in a year. Just over 75,000 of those searches came from Germany alone.
Once again, this points back to the NFL’s presence in Germany. Teams have played in Munich and will play in Frankfurt starting in 2023. However, it’s interesting to note that the Packers come in eighth worldwide in terms of fan interest—not just Google searches.
The Dallas Cowboys are the world’s most lucrative team, even if they haven’t been making any waves in the NFL recently. It seems that owner Jerry Jones doesn’t just know how to make money, but also gain influence. Despite the Cowboys’ lackluster record, the team has the most Facebook and Instagram supporters of any team.
They’re also the third most-searched team in eleven locations worldwide. That puts them just below the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills (more on them below). So, where do the Cowboys reign? The US, Mexico, Kazakhstan, and a slew of North African countries.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When looking at the most-searched teams in the world, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can be considered the world’s most intriguing team. While the team didn’t come out ahead as the most-searched team in too many countries, interest worldwide was high thanks to their recent performance.
This points back to the Buccs’ dominance in the league—and, in particular, the star power of Tom Brady. Though not a dynastic team that non-football fans abroad would likely know, they certainly wanted to learn more about the Florida team and its star quarterback over the past year.
The same can be said for the Buffalo Bills. While quarterback Josh Allen isn’t nearly on-par with Tom Brady, he’s helped catapult the team into the playoffs—and nearly made a run for the Super Bowl last season. Thanks to this, the Bills were the most-searched team in quite a few countries, including Slovakia, Belgium, and Italy.
But this is a new phenomenon. When looking strictly at social media figures, the Bills can’t compete with other longstanding NFL teams like the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, and Miami Dolphins. Regardless of their current standings, they’re still benefitting from building their reputations on dynastic runs and Super Bowl wins.