In honor of the fourth annual International Series game in London this week between the Broncos and 49ers, we thought we’d compare the best cities to host NFL games. We’ve included cities that have hosted regular-season or preseason games in the past, former NFL Europe cities, as well as a few wild-card ideas of our own. As with all of our Football Relativity comparisons, the 10 level indicates the best host cities, and the 1 level indicates destinations the NFL should just avoid.
One of the reasons we’re doing this is because of the rumored expansion of the NFL season from 16 games to 18. With several NFL teams struggling to sell out eight home games, moving a home game overseas may be even more appealing. Not only will doing so help a team develop an international following and market; it will also ensure a payday greater than a partially filled stadium would.
Feel free to disagree or add your own suggestions via comment.
Wembley Stadium in London
10 – London, England – London has hosted regular-season games for four years now, selling out each one. Wembley Stadium is a great host site, and with the Olympics coming to London in 2012, more potential stadiums will be available as well – such as Emirates Stadium, home of soccer’s Arsenal. As long as the NFL is playing internationally, London will be a host.
9 – Mexico City, Mexico – Mexico City has hosted NFL games with great success, including a 2005 game between the 49ers and Cardinals that was the first regular-season NFL game played outside the United States. It also hosted 112,000 people, the largest crowd in NFL history, for a 1994 preseason game. Maybe Mexico City doesn’t fit as an annual host, but it makes sense for the NFL to tap into this sizable market with a regular season game twice a decade. For a team like the Chargers or Raiders that is in a Hispanic-heavy market and is struggling to sell tickets, a consistent alliance with Mexico City could be even more fruitful than the Bills’ Toronto deal is.
8 – Toronto, Canada – Toronto is also an annual host of NFL regular-season games, but it is a secondary home field for the Buffalo Bills. While other teams might like to play in the Rogers Centre (also home of baseball’s Blue Jays), including Toronto in their market is key to the Bills’ long-term future. Toronto remains a key part of the NFL’s future.
7 – Munich, Germany – Germany ended up being the prime market for NFL Europa, and while Munich didn’t host an NFL Europa team or an American Bowl, it’s a prime spot for two reasons. First, it’s close enough to Frankfurt, home of a huge U.S. military base, to draw plenty of Americans. Second, it has two 69,000-seat stadiums opened in 2005. That combination of factors makes Hamburg a more attractive option than Berlin (with a 1936 stadium), Frankfurt (with a smaller, 52,000-seat stadium), or Hamburg (52,000 seats).
6 – Tokyo, Japan – Tokyo has hosted 12 preseason games between 1989 and 2005, and so it is a natural to host a regular-season game. The problem is travel, because Japan isn’t easy to get to, even from the West Coast. But if the NFL is looking to grow internationally, Japan’s large population makes it a natural to host a game that counts.
5 – Bejiing, China – The NFL tried to host a China Bowl preseason game in Beijing back in 2007, but it was delayed because of building delays leading up to the 2008 Olympics. The game, rescheduled for 2009, was then cancelled because of the massive recession that hit during that time. But China is a huge market, and the NFL will rightly seek to move into that area soon.
4 – Rio de Janiero, Brazil – Rio has never hosted an NFL game, but it’s the most important city below the equator in the Western Hemisphere, and as host of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, it’s building state-of-the-art stadiums. That makes it the natural spot for the NFL to go to for at least a preseason game to see if the U.S.’s game can catch on in South America.
3 – Gelsenkirchen, Germany – Like Munich, Gelsenkirchen is home to a newer stadium (built in 2001) that can hold 61,000 people. Plus, Gelsenkirchen has hosted a Champions League final, and it is in the Rhein area that hosted an NFL Europa team for 15 years. So Gelsenkirchen gets the nod over Dusseldorf as the second-best German option to host an NFL game.
2 – Glasgow, Scotland – With the success the NFL has had in London, it makes sense to look elsewhere in the British Isles to host games. Glasgow hosted 13 NFL Europa seasons (the only place outside of Germany to have a team that long), and it has three different stadiums that seat 50,000 people or more. Plus, going to Scotland makes more sense than going elsewhere in England, to somewhere like Manchester, or to Dublin, Ireland.
1- Amsterdam, the Netherlands – Amsterdam hosted NFL Europa for 13 years, and it is home to one of Europe’s biggest soccer stadiums. So it could handle the NFL, and its location would draw a different group of fans than Germany, England, or another option like Barcelona would. As the NFL looks for easier trips to Europe for regular-season games, Amsterdam will become a natural option. It won’t grow a huge new market, but it may be good enough to support a game every four or five years.
Other former preseason game hosts: Montreal, Canada; Dublin, Ireland; Barcelona, Spain; Monterrey, Mexico; Vancouver, Canada; Sydney, Australia; Osaka, Japan
Other former NFL Europa hosts: Cologne, Germany; Frankfurt, Germany; Hamburg, Germany; Dusseldorf, Germany
Other potential options: Dortumund, Germany; Calgary, Canada; Manchester, England; Madrid, Spain; Milan, Italy