It’s no secret that the NFL has been looking to take advantage of what it sees as a burgeoning international market. Games have spread from London to Germany and Mexico over the past few years. Last year the league “awarded” overseas regions to specific franchises, with the Bucs and Germany being paired up.
Now, it seems the league is ready to go from dipping its toes to a full cannonball off the diving board.
According to a report from Front Office Sports, an anonymous league owner advised that there will be an international league in the coming years, be it two years, five years, or some other time.
“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.”
That really shouldn’t be a surprise, but that’s certainly one that should catch the attention of some fans and local communities of certain franchises. The league is currently at a balanced 32 teams, 8 divisions, and 2 conferences. It’s pretty much the perfect set up of teams per division and conference. If the league grants 4 new franchises in Europe, it will have to reorganize its divisional format. 8 x 4 won’t add up anymore, and 9 x 4 makes an even conference split impossible.
Unless the league takes 4 existing franchises and relocates them or implements some combination of relocation and expansion. Jacksonville seems like the team most likely to get shipped overseas, given its longstanding history of playing games in London and Shad Khan’s stated desire to play more games there. The Jags are no closer to getting a new stadium, which in today’s football world is the ultimate arbiter of whether a team lasts or not in a given city.
And that last point is what makes the Bucs an interesting team to consider in this context. Noted Tom-Brady-as-a-Buccaneer critic Mike Florio notes market size and stadium situations as factors in teams relocating and identifies the Panthers and Bucs as two teams who would make sense to get shipped.
It’s understandable the Bucs would be included in this discussion. After all, as mentioned earlier, the league partnered them up with Germany, one of the most attractive potential locations for a European franchise. The Glazer family also currently owns the Manchester United soccer club, so they already have experience in owning a European sports team. The Bucs will also undoubtedly need a new stadium at some point, but the league still considered Raymond James Stadium good enough to host a Super Bowl two years ago, so it’s not an immediate and pressing situation that the Chargers and Raiders faced that ultimately led to them leaving town.
The level of interest and ticket sales will also presumably be a factor for a team getting shipped, and the Bucs are currently coming off a dream run of three straight seasons that ended in the playoffs with the greatest quarterback ever at the helm. However, what will Ray Jay look like for a Sunday 1 pm game three or four years down the road if they can’t find a suitable successor at QB?
One thing that would make sense for expansion rather than relocation is that, if the league has a goal of reaching 40 franchises (as Florio ponders), they would have to replace any team they ship overseas. As such, it would seem almost counterproductive – or at the very least treading water – to ship a team overseas instead of granting a new expansion franchise in a European city.
In any event, it’s clear that NFL has its sights set on making the league fully international. The Bucs’ fans – and those of several other existing teams – better hope they’re just along for the ride as visitors.