By KEN MAGUIRE, AP Sports Writer
MUNICH (AP) — The NFL plans to play more regular-season games in Germany, possibly sooner than expected.
League commissioner Roger Goodell told a fan forum in Munich on Saturday that the NFL will stage “at least” four games in Germany through 2025.
The current agreement includes Sunday’s first game in Germany plus an annual game over the next three seasons — with Munich and Frankfurt each hosting twice.
“In our commitment, we’re going to play the next four years, at least, and with at least four games,” Goodell said ahead of Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks at Allianz Arena. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it expanded beyond that at some point soon.”
The commissioner didn’t take questions from the media but his comments could reflect that both the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs are lobbying for next year’s game.
There are also questions about the availability of Azteca Stadium in Mexico City in 2023. Azteca, which will host the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals on Nov. 21, could be under renovation next year in preparation for the 2026 World Cup.
Germany has become the NFL’s top market in Europe and Munich has been buzzing all week about Sunday’s game, headlined by seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady.
League officials looked to extend beyond the four years, and they would have little trouble finding more partners. Besides Munich and Frankfurt, Düsseldorf had reached the short list from eight German cities that initially bid to host games.
“What the commissioner and we are feeling is the excitement from our teams to play here, especially those clubs that have the international home marketing area rights to Germany,” said Peter O’Reilly, NFL executive vice president of club business and league events.
Those rights allow teams to cultivate fans and sign commercial deals in the country. The Bucs, Chiefs, Patriots and Carolina Panthers have rights in Germany. AFC teams will get the ninth home game next season as part of the expanded schedule, setting up the Chiefs and Patriots as a potential home team in Germany.
“We both want to be there and we both see the opportunity, so we’ll present our best cases to be there and the league will make a decision,” Chiefs president Mark Donovan told The Associated Press.
The Chiefs were initially “very disappointed that we didn’t get the game this year,” Donovan said.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft has spoken in the past about Germany’s potential and has said the Patriots have the biggest fan base there.
Mexico is a huge market for the NFL and nine teams have marketing rights in the country. O’Reilly, as he did in a midweek call with media, referred Azteca questions to stadium officials there.
The league will sort out its 2023 international game schedule in the next few months, said O’Reilly, adding if there’s an issue with Azteca, “having a clear sense by the Super Bowl would be important.”
Any additions to the current four-game plan would need to be negotiated with the German Football League and require space in the soccer calendar.
“Like the puzzle that is an NFL schedule, the DFL schedule is a puzzle as well,” O’Reilly said.
Goodell has used fan forums to drop hints about what the league is dreaming up when it comes to Europe.
In London, which has been staging regular-season games since 2007, Goodell raised the idea of a full European division of teams — not just whether a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars would make the leap full-time.
“We have talked about, could you expand the league? But this is all in conceptual stages,” Goodell said Saturday.
“Are there markets here in Europe that could support an NFL team? I’ve said very often that I do believe that’s the case. As we do our games in Germany, I think we’ll find multiple cities that will be able to host an NFL game or host an NFL team on a regular basis.”
The league’s main concern with a team based in Europe is competitiveness, especially with unpredictable scheduling in the playoffs.
“Do you bring teams over more often? Do you play nine or 10 games with different teams? Or do you put one team over here and let them play? How do you do that so it’s competitively fair to that team, because that would be one of our 32 teams or if you expanded,” Goodell said.
“But the reality is it will probably happen some day in some fashion, but I think we’re going to have to progress to that point.”
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