Leverage the international Rugby fan base: The closest sport to football, played around the world, with the largest fan base is Rugby. Rugby fans may be the path of least resistance to building an audience abroad. By giving more tryouts to Rugby players like Hayden Smith, and having exchange programs for players between NFL teams and Rugby clubs would create immediate interest. Furthermore, there is a lot each sport can learn from each other. Additionally, if the Saracens of Premiership League adopts the Jets and the Jets adopt the Saracens, both can introduce each other to their respective fan bases. Rugby fans cannot be bought but they can be earned. If you show them a genuine interest in their sport or team, they will reciprocate the same. In addition, the NFL can learn a lot from Rugby in terms of building team chemistry, and conditioning and training.
Clinics and camps in the off-season. In order for this to work, there has to be boots on the ground in foreign soil. Send our coaches and players to different countries every year. For example; send Bears players to countries such as Poland because there are over 1.5 million people of Polish decent living in Chicago who are most likely Bears fans. Having media eyes on a beast like Urlacher is sure to make an unforgettable impact on the locals. Players and coaches will love a paid vacation to different countries to talk and teach football.
TV: I admit that I am not fully versed on how foreign TV deals and rights work but I do know that the world is getting smaller and access to any content you want can be had on an a la carte basis most anywhere in the world. The NFL has to give the product away for free at first. Foreigners won’t pay to watch a sport they don’t understand and don’t like sitting through commercials for sporting events. The concept of a TV time out is alien to them. The NFL can still profit by copying how soccer leveraging in game advertising methods.
Contests and smaller venues: The NFL should consider having a punting and kicking contest a few days before every London game. It can be hosted and judged by each team’s punters, kickers and special teams coaches. The winner will win 10,000 euros or pounds and a tryout with an NFL team. This contest may actually generate more excitement and attention than the game itself. I also think the NFL should look at having games abroad played at smaller venues to emulate a true NFL experience.
I travel to Europe every summer and have visited over 27 countries. When I get into discussions about my job, which then leads to American football, the biggest complaint I hear from foreigners is that there are too many rules, too many stoppages of play and little access to games on TV. If the NFL is ever going to develop a mass fan base abroad, they have to step up the grass roots education of the game, wrap the foreign product for TV differently than we do here, (less commercials/interruptions), have a better understanding of the culture of the foreign fan, and give them more access to the personalities (players/coaches) that make the game more fun, personal and interesting.
Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta
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