By Jim Caltagirone
With the announcement that five NFL games will be played in London and Frankfurt during the 2023 season, fans in select American cities are left to ponder how exactly they benefit from the international outreach.
As the league schedule trickled out during the second week of May, it became painfully obvious to fans of Jacksonville, Buffalo, Tennessee, Kansas City and New England that they will have one less opportunity to see their favorite team play a home game during the upcoming season.
Since international games are played at a neutral site, there is no home-field advantage.
However, the team that is designated as the “home team” will have one fewer traditional home game on its schedule.
Instead of planning for nine outings in support of their Jaguars, Bills, Titans, Chiefs and Patriots, season ticket holders will have to settle for eight.
Staging NFL preseason and regular season games beyond U.S. borders has been a strategic success for the league and host cities. The games forge economic alliances, generate new revenue streams, expand marketing platforms and foster goodwill.
The league regards its international initiative as an ongoing grass-root effort to “continue growing football’s international footprint, building a new global fanbase and inspiring athletes around the world to play football.”
At 17 games, the NFL regular season schedule is the shortest of the four major sports. Based on scheduling and calendar quirks, a team might play only one game at home in a particular month.
Tennessee, for example, has only one home game in November because the Titans will start the month with three consecutive road games.
With historic back-to-back regular season games scheduled in London in October, the Jaguars are the closest thing to a dual-city franchise spanning the Atlantic.
Jacksonville is in the second year of a three-year contract to play an annual home game in London. The organization is fully responsible for game operations, but the contract also stipulates that the Jaguars will retain all revenue.
Ticket revenue alone could be as much as 40 percent higher than the average for home games in Jacksonville.
With the exception of the 2020 season, which was impacted by the pandemic, the Jaguars have played a game in England every year since 2013. As expected, the organization’s brass has cited Jacksonville’s small-market qualities as an incentive to seek supplemental revenue.
Major League Baseball scheduled two international series during the 2023 season but comparing those games to the NFL’s international slate is apples to oranges.
The Padres gave up two home dates in an 81-game home schedule to play San Francisco in Mexico City in April.
Also, by most estimates, the Mexican border is only a 17-mile drive from downtown San Diego. It makes sense for the Padres to cultivate an international fan base that can reached by car, rather than one that is separated by an ocean and several time zones.
The prospect of NFL expansion to a European city is certainly more realistic than colonizing Mars, but the logistical challenges are still astronomical.
However, when money is involved, never discount the problem-solving abilities of the league’s fixers.
NFL teams are many things to many people. They are employers, sources of entertainment and community partners.
First and foremost, however, NFL teams are businesses.
Empty stadiums on what should be highly anticipated gamedays this fall offer somber confirmation of that.
Jim Caltagirone resides in Altoona. He is a regular contributor to Voice of the Fan.