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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Next Up on NFL’s Travel Plans: Australia … and Abu Dhabi?

  • The league confirmed it is exploring playing a regular-season game in Australia.
  • A new report also indicates that the Middle East is under consideration.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is always thinking 12 months, five years, and even a decade down the road.

Right now, international expansion is at the forefront of team owners’ minds. Regular-season games will enter new markets in Brazil this fall and Spain next year. In 2025, the NFL has the option of playing eight games outside of the U.S., up from the five contests beyond this country’s borders last season and this upcoming one.

From time to time, the league likes to drop nuggets of information to prepare its fans for what’s coming next. The latest example comes from owners meetings this week in Nashville, where more details surrounding the league’s international strategy have been trickling out, both through public comments and anonymous back channels.

Heard Down Under?

It’s becoming more and more clear that Australia is going to be next up for hosting a regular-season game. “Yes, we are having those conversations in Australia,” Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s executive vice president of club business, international and league events, told reporters at the owners meetings.

“Australia is among a set—and it’s not a small set—of markets that we are looking at,” O’Reilly said. “And obviously Australia is an important market for us.” The Eagles and Rams have rights in Australia as part of the NFL’s global markets program that allows teams to activate their brands internationally. If either Philadelphia or Los Angeles wanted to play host Down Under, 2026 could make sense, as NFC teams will have the extra ninth home game that season.

Cities like Sydney and Melbourne are 14 hours ahead of the East Coast, so finding a suitable game window for locals and fans back home in the U.S. may be difficult, but not impossible. The NFL isn’t allowed to broadcast games in the U.S. on Friday nights and Saturdays from the second Friday in September to the second Saturday in December.

So, in order to avoid a broadcast in the middle of the night for U.S. viewers, the NFL would need to look at a midday contest on a weekday in Australia. For example, a noon kickoff on a Monday in Sydney could be broadcast in the U.S. on Sunday evening at 10 p.m. ET—that would be 7 p.m. PT for Rams fans on the West Coast, for example.

All Across the World

Beyond Australia and other markets that already host games, the NFL is reportedly considering all of its options. The league is conducting due diligence on France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, and the Middle East—likely Abu Dhabi, according to The New York Times. The NBA has played preseason games in Abu Dhabi, but has yet to hold a regular-season contest in the Middle East.

O’Reilly also mentioned the Asia Pacific region while discussing the possibility of Australia, noting the competitive and logistical challenges with that part of the world. “Our role is to really look at the globe, look at where the fan base is strong, and do the diligence, make the evaluation,” he said.

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