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A crystal ball look at Super Bowl's international potential

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

(Reuters) - Picture the scene: it is 2025 and the National Football League's London Monarchs are battling against the Green Bay Packers in Texas for honor and glory in the Super Bowl.

Or look a little further ahead and perhaps it is 2029 and the Berlin Barons are taking on the Dallas Cowboys in Arizona for supremacy in the NFL's annual championship game.

These scenarios are, of course, fiction for the moment but either could become reality as the NFL's strategy to expand the sport globally continues to gather pace.

For the past decade the NFL has held regular season games in Britain, a policy which is now being pursued in Mexico, and the success of the London experiment has that city looming as the likeliest candidate for the league's first team on foreign soil.

"The more we grow and get more fans in the UK, the more it will be that having your own team is ultimately what fans aspire to," Mark Waller, the NFL's executive vice president of international, told Reuters.

"And so there is a logical progression that says, 'Hey, if you continue to grow your fans and you continue to get more passion, ultimately the best expression of fandom is having your own team.'

As the league continues to expand globally, Waller says he would also like to see regular season games played in Canada and Germany, with China looming as a long-term option.

PLAYING OUTSIDE BRITAIN

In 2015, the NFL extended its commitment to play international regular season games through 2025, including the option to play outside Britain, beginning this season in Mexico.

That resolution broadened a 2011 agreement that permitted the NFL to play games at London's Wembley Stadium through 2016.

The league played only one game at Wembley for six seasons before raising it to two games in 2013, three in 2014 and then to four for this year.

"Every year that we play more games internationally and add in countries, we feel more and more confident that the strategy of taking regular season games away from the U.S. is really the best way to give fans the true NFL experience," said Waller.

"We are strongly committed to that strategy. Our biggest hurdle to overcome in all honesty is finding teams that are willing and ready to give up a home game and play that game in an international market.

"Every team only gets eight regular season home games guaranteed so giving up a game is a huge commitment. That's why we passed a couple of resolutions two or three years ago to give us some more inventory to be able to deploy internationally.”

Those resolutions required teams in stadium transition -- like the Los Angeles Rams before this season -- to play a home game abroad and for teams that win bids to host Super Bowls to give up a home game to play outside the United States.

As NFL fans prepare to watch Sunday's Super Bowl in Houston, to be contested by the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons, it is by no means inconceivable to ponder a time when the league's showpiece game might be staged outside the U.S.

"I am a big believer in never saying never, so I definitely think you can see that (as a possibility) but I don't think you will see it for a while," said Waller.

"There are many cities in the U.S. that have NFL teams in them that have never hosted a Super Bowl and so I can't foresee a time where you play a Super Bowl in a city overseas when you haven't played it in cities in the U.S. that host franchises and have local stadiums and huge local fan bases.

"The idea of staging a Super Bowl internationally sort of follows on from when you have a team based internationally, that is part of the logical progression of it."

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in St. Augustine, Florida; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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