Exporting the NFL

It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Is the NFL’s strategy on expansion insane? It’s definitely expensive.

I’ve been to about thirty countries and I’m always curious about how the NFL is received abroad. Unfortunately, my foreign friends knowledge of the league is usually limited to the off field actions of such players as OJ Simpson, Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice. Yep, we have an image problem abroad and the foreign media outlets love kicking dirt in our face whenever they get the chance.

Playing the London game is a small bright spot for us but it’s really limited to England. If the NFL is determined to expand and export their product, they need to start exploring some other methods.

The million-dollar foot

If you haven’t seen the movie, Million Dollar Arm, it’s a pretty good flick based on a true story. The NFL pays millions of dollars to bring six teams to London, millions more to promote the games, and millions more in logistics and activities. So, why not take a million dollars and have a worldwide contest every year?

The contest would consist of accuracy, distance, hang time and consistency. Unlike American football fans, foreigners are fascinated with our kicking game.

Because of the skill set used in soccer and rugby, foreigners come out of the womb kicking a ball. Imagine the hordes of young athletes from South America, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Latin America, and/or Asia who would work all year to win a million dollars, and perhaps get a try out and/or contract with an NFL team.

The NFL game is very cumbersome and difficult to learn from watching one or two games live or on TV once every year. But having the world’s attention from a contest is also a chance to teach the game. Each entrant would have to watch some videos, and then take a test online about the game before they qualify to enter the contest. That most likely will mean 10 to 15 million or more entries per year. A good percentage of these entrants will become fans. The final contest would be a worldwide TV spectacle.

Let's attract the world’s best athletes with incentives

I met Dennis Rodman in Las Vegas years ago and asked him if he ever thought about playing in the NFL as a receiver. He said he actually looked into once and was shocked to see how little players made. He said, “I couldn’t afford the pay cut and don’t want to be treated like a rookie again”. He meant “financially”.

Did you know that any pro athlete from another sport that signed with an NFL team would have to enter the league through the rookie salary pool? The rookie salary pool only has a finite amount of money carefully designated for each draft pick and a handful of undrafted free agents. Therefore, any player entering the rookie pool would have to sign a three-year deal, be limited to a tiny signing bonus and have restrictions on incentive bonuses. In essence, most players playing other sports would be taking a severe pay cut to play in the NFL.

The NFL needs to create a special category for foreigners, and/or sport changers over 24 years of age. Furthermore, there should be a roster exception for one foreigner per year per team that doesn’t count against the 90 or 53 man roster. Their contract should be a 2-year deal that does not count against the rookie salary pool. They should be part of the overall team cap.

If the NFL were sprinkled with ten or more players from around the world, the NFL would build fan bases more cheaply than moving a team to London. Countries such as Croatia, Turkey, China, Germany and Spain have tuned in to the NBA, buy apparel and consume the NBA product because of players from their country.

The NFL will have to help countries develop skill sets of athletes at a younger age with camps and the establishment of club leagues. Many of the foreign NBA players grew up playing basketball in their country.

We have been playing NFL games in Europe for over twenty years if you count the NFL Europe venture. I attend the London games each year and I see growth, but it’s at a snails pace. The NFL is truly pushing the proverbial boulder up the mountain.

There are many other entertaining, strategic and less expensive ways to garner foreign consumers of the game.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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