The NFL will host its first game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, built with the NFL in mind, when the Chicago Bears and Oakland Raiders play in London on Sunday.
The stadium opened its doors in April, months after it was initially set to host its first NFL game, and will host another game Oct. 13. The four London games make it 28 played in the city since 2007, when the league began what it then called its International Series.
The league may be closer to further expanding the league’s footprint outside of the United States.
NFL has eyed Germany expansion for years
Roger Goodell said in 2015 that both Germany and Mexico had reached out to host games and there was “renewed interest” by owners. The NFL began hosting a game in Mexico in 2016, a move it voiced excitement about given the fan base there.
Chris Halpin, NFL executive vice president and chief strategy and growth officer, was clear about where the NFL is focused now. Via Albert Breer for SI.com’s Monday Morning Quarterback:
“The markets we’re looking at are Germany and then Canada,” Halpin said. “The key questions are — both of them, we have great fan bases — what stadium would we play in, and how would we execute it? You’ve got to get strong local support, given the demands of NFL games, the size of our teams, what you need to get two football teams into two practice facilities, and into the stadium on buses. It’s a heavy lift.”
As for Canada, both Vancouver and Toronto had each reached out by 2015. From 2007-13, Toronto hosted one Buffalo Bills home game per season but the arrangement didn’t work out for mostly team-specific reasons. The Bills were dropping in popularity in Canada and Toronto area fans were more interested in taking the drive to New Era Field to hit the raucous tailgates, per the Toronto Sun.
Why Germany is a fit for NFL
The NFL founded NFL Europa (née NFL Europe née World League of American Football) in 1991 and shuttered it in 2007. It was popular in Germany and of the 15 World Bowls, 10 were won by a German team.
The Frankfurt Galaxy played in eight of them, winning four, and had a strong fan outpouring given the United States’ Rhein-Main Air Base is nearby. Brad Johnson, who later won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, told ESPN:
"We played in Frankfurt, Germany, at an American Army base, and there were 40,000 fans and it felt like 80,000. There was a drum beat going in the stands.”
Retired Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, whose dad Oliver was the Galaxy’s first general manager, told ESPN in 2017 games were “like a big carnival.”
With a large base of American football fans, and previous success with NFL Europa, the league would likely see similar success in Germany as it has seen with international games in London.
There is also a relatively large list of German players to cheer for over the years in the NFL. According to Pro Football Reference, the country with the most NFL players is Canada with 107 total having played in the pros. Germany is second with 81, reportedly more than 13 U.S. states.
Will Germany get its NFL shot in 2020?
The country seems to be getting closer to a return by the NFL. Germany will host the 2019 NFL International Combine on Oct. 19, where up to 50 athletes will take part in tests for the chance to train in the United States for three months. The inaugural event was held in Australia last year, which is fitting given the country has more players currently in the NFL (5) than any non-U.S. country other than Canada (8), per Pro Football Reference.
Haplin told SI.com “it’s too soon” to get a game in Germany for 2020. Expanding the season to 17 games, which is reportedly now on the table by owners, would allow for more games internationally. That is one possibility to add more overseas trips, but not the only way.
“There’s a variety of different paths we could pursue to create even more inventory for international games,” Haplin said.
According to SI.com, the league will keep four games in London — two in Tottenham and two at Wembley — and will likely keep a game in Mexico City for next season. Four years after it was introduced and with an NFL-specific stadium days from being broken in, it’s easy to imagine an expansion to Germany isn’t too far off.