NEW YORK (Reuters) – Barcelona fans could soon root for the Chicago Bears, while the Seattle Seahawks could get their next 12th man from Canada if the National Football League has any say in it.
Not content to own Sundays only in the United States, the NFL is pushing its global ambitions a step further, carving up a map of the world and dishing out territories for 18 different franchises to build fan bases abroad.
The NFL assigned marketing rights to 26 regions in total, with teams having access to their International Home Marketing Areas (IHMA) for “fan engagement and commercialization” for at least five years beginning in 2022.
Wembley regulars the Jacksonville Jaguars were assigned to the United Kingdom while Mexico got its beloved Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers – along with seven other teams – and the Los Angeles Rams will strike out on their own in Australia and China.
The Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings will vie for Canada’s allegiances, while Germany was assigned to the Carolina Panthers and a trio of recent Super Bowl champs: the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“This important initiative enables NFL teams to develop meaningful, direct relationships with NFL fans abroad, driving fan growth and avidity globally,” NFL Chief Strategy and Growth Officer Christopher Halpin said in a statement.
All 32 NFL teams will play at least one international game during the course of the next eight seasons, and efforts will be made to place teams in their IHMAs where possible.
Expansion abroad has been a top priority for the league with the NFL forming its international arm in 1996 amid burgeoning global interest in American football.
The league suspended international games last season due to the coronavirus pandemic, but demand for tickets for the NFL’s five international games in 2019 increased 55% from the previous year, according to StubHub.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York and Fernando Kallas in Madrid; Editing by Ed Osmond and Matthew Lewis)