An NFL owner speaking on condition of anonymity told Front Office Sports that the league plans to incorporate an “international division” as soon as it is practical.
“We don’t know if it’s going to happen in two years, five years, or whenever, but there’s going to be an international division,” the anonymous owner told Front Office Sports.
Adding another division (four teams according to the current model) would bring the total number of teams in the league to 36. NFL teams are slated to play five international games in 2023. Creating an international division would not just be an unprecedented act in basing NFL teams overseas for the first time in league history. It would also be the first time the league has ever expanded by an entire division. Before this, the league’s largest expansion was in 1995 when the Jaguars and Panthers became the 30th and 31st franchises.
“I think what we are focused on is building capacity so if there were that opportunity — whether a club wanted to consider relocation or potentially looking at expansion — we are in that mode,” said Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s executive VP of club business, international, & league events. ”In London, where we’ve been for a long time, and now in Germany, we’re making sure we’ve got the stadium partners, the governmental partners, and the fan support to sustain that possibility.”
While talk of adding an international team to the league is nothing new, much of that talk has centered on the idea of having one team based in the U.K. that would be attached to either the NFC East or AFC East.
So why add an entire division as opposed to just one team?
As one NFL owner told Front Office Sports, it comes down to money.
“Having just one team in London could be problematic,” an owner said. “It does sound crazy, but it’d be more economical that way.”
Here’s why adding four teams instead of one makes sense: The NFL already splits the money from its media rights deal 32 ways. Current owners would understandably be reluctant to split the pie 36 ways unless the pie was significantly bigger. As Front Office Sports reports, expansion fees for such a division-sized expansion deal are projected to land in the $3 to $5 billion range. A sum that dwarfs the $140 million the league reaped when they added the Jags and Panthers nearly 30 years ago. Such a large expansion fee would put owners at ease and assure them that the expansion would not hurt their wallets.
The NFL could also “grow the pie” regarding international television rights.
Having an international division instead of one international team also makes sense from a travel perspective. If there were only one team in London, every road game would be a trans-Atlantic voyage, and God help them if they had a game against the 49ers or some other team out West. With a European-based division, at least a few road games would be far more manageable trips.
The NFL has played international games in Mexico and plans to do so again this year. Though, it appears the focus for the international division remains on Europe.
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