Commissioner Goodell spoke this morning at the Global Sport Summit in London which is one of the many special events leading up to Sunday’s International Series game — Denver vs. San Francisco — at Wembley Stadium (CBS, 1 PM ET).
The Commissioner was asked about the possibility of multiple international games in future seasons.
“It’s all part of a greater strategy, but we evaluated very closely whether we’d play multiple games here in the UK, starting this season,” Commissioner Goodell said. “We didn’t because of where we are in terms of our Collective Bargaining Agreement with our players, which expires at the end of this season. We felt that we had to fix that priority before we engaged in multiple games here, but it is very much our intent to be playing multiple games here.”
“That’s one of the reasons we’re looking at the restructured season that would allow us to add two more regular season games, which would be beneficial in expanding our regular season International Series,” the Commissioner added. “Then it’s just a question of the growth in the marketplace, and that’s why we believe playing multiple games will demonstrate that there is a strong foundation here for American football. Fans want to see it. Partners that will support it – including our media partners and sponsors and licensees – when you can get to that point, I think you’ve given yourself a great deal of confidence that a franchise here would be successful. We’re moving right on down that paradigm.”
Following is a transcript of Commissioner Goodell’s comments at this morning’s discussion.
NFL COMMISSIONER ROGER GOODELL
Global Sport Summit Panel Discussion Comments
London – October 29, 2010
How is the NFL’s International Series developing and where do you see it going from here?
The way we evaluate it is the progress we make as a sport, and I think it’s clear from the experience we’ve had here in the UK that each year the different barometers indicate that our popularity continues to rise. Bringing over a regular season game here and letting our fans experience a real NFL game has had a significant effect, not just with building fan affinity, but also with our partners. We’ve seen increasing media coverage, our fans are more avid – moving from casual to avid – and it doesn’t happen without great partnerships. I think it’s a relentless focus on the quality of what you do and allowing our partners to be able to help us build our sport. I think it’s been incredibly successful for us.
How do you measure fans moving from casual to avid?
We actually do it all over the globe, most specifically in the United States. We identify a fan as either casual or avid or, obviously, a non-fan, but we hope we don’t have a lot of those. We try to move them down the paradigm and we try to get them to be consuming more NFL – watching it more on television, coming into our stadiums and buying merchandise, interacting through our digital media properties. All of that leads to a fan that’s more avid, and we’re seeing that here in this market and we hope to continue that growth. We’ve said frequently it possibly could lead to a franchise here in the UK.
On the possibilities the future might hold for the NFL in the UK:
It’s all part of a greater strategy, but we evaluated very closely whether we’d play multiple games here in the UK, starting this season. We didn’t because of where we are in terms of our Collective Bargaining Agreement with our players, which expires at the end of this season. We felt that we had to fix that priority before we engaged in multiple games here, but it is very much our intent to be playing multiple games here.
How do you go about developing your global audience beyond the UK even further?
We’re playing regular season games in Canada. We actually started our regular season series in Mexico. I think whenever you take a strategic step, it has to be successful. You have to build off of success and we’re building off of that foundation. I think if we’re successful here with our strategy, which we believe we can be, I think that will create greater success on a global basis. That doesn’t mean you ignore the rest of the world. We’re continuing to focus on how we bring our game to those markets. Technology is our friend in that case. We’ve used technology to reach more of our fans and we will continue to pursue the same types of strategies in other markets.
How do you see the North American market developing and how do the current economic troubles affect your efforts?
We’ve actually looked at it as an opportunity. We think there’s still growth in the North American market. We focus our growth all over the world, but obviously as our core market, we look at how we can continue to grow. The economy is clearly providing challenges, but on the other side it’s an opportunity. Our ratings and our viewership continue to grow at extraordinary rates in the United States and there are a lot of theories on why that’s happening. Some of them are that more people are staying at home and choosing a lower cost version of entertainment, and watching it on television is a great experience. That’s something that we embrace, but it does give us a challenge on the other side because we want people to come into our stadiums and enjoy our events, and that is becoming increasingly challenging. From our standpoint, the economy is something that we all have to deal with. It’s going to have different challenges at different periods of time, but you really have to refocus your strategies on how to take advantage of those opportunities.
On whether Latin America is of growing importance to the NFL:
Yes. The challenge that we still have is American football is not played on a broad, global basis, and that’s still one of our fundamental challenges. How do we promote a sport that is not played by the youth in each of those markets? But I think that’s where media and bringing our games to those markets meets those challenges. We’ve seen it here in this marketplace, we’ve seen it in Japan, and we’ve seen it in Mexico and Canada. We have to continue to bring our game into those marketplaces. There’s tremendous interest in our sport. We have to meet that challenge and get it to them.
Does bringing the NFL’s International Series to the UK do anything for efforts to expand interest in continental Europe?
Each market in Europe is different and you have to approach each with a unique strategy. We had a European league that was across the continent and by the time we moved down the road we were essentially all in Germany, and it wasn’t serving the purpose of building the game across the continent. We focus in on the strategy of each of those specific markets, create success, and build off of that success.
Will many of the fans coming to the game on Sunday be coming from continental Europe?
Yes. We’re incredibly pleased about the fact that people are coming from all over Europe into Wembley to see the game. It’s really extraordinary. A lot of people think they’re coming from the United States. It’s not the case. People are coming from Europe. They want to be part of the event. To us, it’s reinforcement that our strategy is successful and that we should look at expanding the series not only here but across the continent.
What needs to happen before you can have an NFL franchise in London and what is the realistic timeline?
I think the first thing we wanted to do was make sure we could play a regular-season game here successfully. When I say that, I mean not just make the event here successful, but also for our clubs. Bringing a regular season game over here has tremendous impact. First, the competition – can the teams feel that they can do it and continue to field a competitive team throughout the remainder of the season? I think we’ve been able to achieve that successfully. The second is you have to take a game away from those fans back in that marketplace, which is difficult. The 49ers are the home team this week, but they had to take a game away from the 49ers fans, and that’s painful. That’s one of the reasons we’re looking at the restructured season that would allow us to add two more regular season games, which would be beneficial in expanding our regular season International Series. In addition, once we’ve gotten over what I would call the logistics, which I think we have, then it’s just a question of the growth in the marketplace, and that’s why we believe playing multiple games will demonstrate that there is a strong foundation here for American football. Fans want to see it. Partners that will support it – including our media partners and sponsors and licensees – when you can get to that point, I think you’ve given yourself a great deal of confidence that a franchise here would be successful. We’re moving right on down that paradigm. Again, I think the next step will be multiple games and if that’s successful then I think the idea of a franchise here is realistic. As far as a timetable, I’ll just say one thing. I’m not as concerned about doing it with any sort of a time frame other than as fast as is practical, but you want to be successful. That’s more important to me than making it fit within any sort of time frame.
You’re moving forward with your progress internationally as opposed to moving the focus back to the United States?
We have seen no indications that our strategy is not working, and we’re seeing progress, so I think from this standpoint we continue to be focused on how we can build off the success we’ve had so far.
On strategies that have worked in terms of international expansion:
I’d go back to quality. Our biggest learning is that you have to focus on quality in everything you do. We started with our American Bowl series which was a series of preseason games, and the more educated fans become the more they realize that’s not high quality. They’re not seeing the real players that they want to see. The games don’t have any significance in the standings. Then we had the NFL Europe experience, and fans realized the players weren’t as good as they are in the NFL. So I give credit to Mark Waller and his team. They shifted our strategy towards saying, market with your best quality product, and that’s regular season games. That has been successful in the short term, and we think it will be successful long term. That’s the second part of it. You have to think long term here. You can’t make short term decisions. You can’t be forced into a timetable. You have to think by marketplace. Make decisions that are going to improve your product or your brand for the long term. Look at those partners that are going to help you look at it the same way. I think that’s the only way you’re going to achieve success – if you measure yourself over the long term rather than the short term.
How long is the NFL’s horizon?
Don’t mistake me as being patient. I’m not a very patient individual. However, I do believe that your decisions have to be made with a long term perspective. It doesn’t mean that you’re not going to push for success on every one of your initiatives, or you’re not going to grasp at innovation and figure out how to do that as quickly as possible. But I think what we are doing is laying the foundation here for the NFL and for football fans around the globe long term – well beyond my years as commissioner. And that’s a good thing. That’s what you should be doing. It doesn’t mean, though, that you can’t have success. It doesn’t mean that before I leave being commissioner of the NFL that we can’t have a successful NFL franchise in London. It’s very possible. That’s part of my job – to make sure, if it is possible and if it is a good step for the NFL, that we do it.