Give It Up, NFL, Nobody Outside Of America Cares About Your Brand Of Football

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Some people, or leagues, just don’t know when to quit. The Sports Business Journal is reporting the NFL has granted 18 teams business rights in eight countries. This is part of a long-term initiative to build the league’s international fandom and grow the game outside the United States.

The rights allows the 18 teams to treat foreign markets as their own. Teams can sell television rights for preseason, regular season radio rights, digital marketing, fan events, merchandise sales, sponsorship, and co-marketing relationships with sports and entertainment properties in that market.

Did the NFL not learn anything from that failed NFL Europe experiment? Sixteen horrendous seasons with annual losses of $30 million.

Nobody outside of the U.S. cares about American football. At least not with any scale to make international growth a reality anytime soon. The most popular sports in the world are soccer and basketball.

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Not the be all and end all metric, but take a look at the top athletes on Instagram based on follower count. Names like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Virat Kohli, Neymar Jr., LeBron James, David Beckham, Kilyan Mbappe, Ronaldinho, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Marcelo Vieira make up the top 10.

Two of those athletes are retired. Another plays cricket, eight of the ten play soccer.

For comparison, Marcelo has 50 million Instagram followers. The most followed NFL player on Instagram is Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.; he has 14.8 million followers. The GOAT Tom Brady has 10.5 million followers.

Taking a look at the world’s highest paid athletes, according to Forbes, and the NFL has better representation due to a few highly paid quarterbacks.

In the top 10 are Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and Brady.

What’s interesting to note is the bulk of Prescott’s total income is from his salary. He only registered $10 million in endorsements. Brady pulled in $31 million, but that’s well behind the endorsement dollars of Conor McGregor ($158 million), Roger Federer ($90 million), LeBron James ($65 million), Tiger Woods ($60 million), Naomi Osaka ($55 million) and Cristiano Ronaldo ($50 million).

That’s MMA, tennis, basketball, golf and soccer stars all before you get to an NFL star.

Why do endorsement dollars matter? Companies are in the business of selling products and making profits. They connect their brand and products to whoever moves the needle and is relevant in the zeitgeist.

Tom Brady is highly relevant and the greatest quarterback of all time. He matters. Here in the States. Outside of the U.S. Tom Brady doesn’t hold the same relevance.

In the U.S. the NFL is king. It is demonstrated by the weekly television ratings, the gambling numbers, etc. But that’s in one country with a population of a little less than 334 million people.

For reference, the rest of the world’s remaining population is roughly 7.6 billion people.

That type of reach is obviously why the NFL wants to expand internationally. Tap into markets not saturated by their product, like the U.S. is. The problem is the game and it’s stars aren’t as appealing overseas as they are here.

The NFL likes to tout its Super Bowl viewership numbers as evidence that the game can grow internationally. The 2021 game attracted 96.4 million viewers. The lowest since 2007 for what it’s worth. A lot of factors go into that, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

For a single day event, the Super Bowl crushes in terms of viewers. Of course there are commercials and halftime entertainment to take into account for drawing in an audience, but we won’t argue with total numbers.

The Tour de France, the premier event in cycling, draws in 3.5 billion viewers annually.

The UEFA Champions League, where the top European soccer clubs battle all season to be one of two final teams in the prestigious championship match, draws 380 million viewers. That’s three times more than the highest-rated Super Bowl.

What can we say? Numbers don’t lie.

If someone overseas wants violence, there’s rugby, boxing, MMA and Australian rules football. In terms of games with strategy and skill, soccer’s roots go back to mid-19th century England. It’s called the “world game” and the “beautiful game” for a reason.

The NBA’s plan to make the game international was more thought out and better developed than the NFL’s.

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Basketball was already being played overseas, and NBA teams would scout the international leagues for talent. Then, of course, there was the 1992 Dream Team, where for the first time we sent professional NBA players to play in the Olympics.

That was a seed that blossomed into a supremely bountiful tree that produced international NBA coaches and international NBA superstars that we are seeing today.

Maybe one day American football will matter outside the US. But we are a very long way away from that.

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