NFL hopeful over Wembley return, seeking true German partnership

The National Football League (NFL) has stated that it is keen to return to Wembley Stadium in 2022, but admits that it faces scheduling challenges as it looks to draw up an international game calendar next year.

The 2021 London Games drew to a thrilling close yesterday (Sunday) as the Jacksonville Jaguars ended their 20-game losing streak by securing a tight 23-20 win over the Miami Dolphins in front of 60,784 fans. Attention will now turn to 2022, and with Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (pictured) contracted to stage at least two games per year under its 10-year deal, questions will turn to whether Wembley can return to the roster.

The long-time venue for the NFL in London, Wembley’s most recent deal with the League expired at the end of 2020, with the NFL in May announcing that Tottenham Hotspur Stadium would host two games during its 2021 regular season, with the events to be its only outings in the UK this year.

In March, it was announced that the NFL would change its season structure for the first time since 1978 after clubs voted to approve measures that will also usher in a new system to allocate international games.

The enhanced season will ensure that, beginning in 2022, all 32 clubs will play internationally at least once every eight years. The NFL said the scheduling of up to four neutral-site games per year in a country outside the United States will focus initially on Canada, Europe, Mexico, South America and the UK. In addition, interested clubs can continue to volunteer to play home games internationally, as is currently the case.

While some teams, such as the Jaguars, have made multiple forays outside the US, others have played only once, or in the Green Bay Packers’ case not at all. The NFL first began playing regular-season games outside the US at Wembley in 2007. Since that point, the League had scheduled a further 37 international games, with 27 in London, six in Toronto and four in Mexico City.

Commenting on the League’s international plans moving forward, NFL head of game operations, Matt Joyce, told TheStadiumBusiness.com: “The 17th game process kind of confirms we’ve got two games within that in the UK, one hopefully coming back in Mexico and the German opportunity that came out last week.

“We’ve got great partners at Wembley. I’ve been at the League 14 years so I’ve worked every single game at Wembley. It’s a great stadium and we’d definitely like to go back. I know the Jaguars are having conversations with them, and will continue to have dialogue with them.

“It’s obviously been made challenging with the pandemic, but not for any logistical reasons why we wouldn’t go back to Wembley from that perspective.”

Congested calendar

Next year is set to be a busy one for the sporting calendar, both for major events already scheduled, and those postponed and rescheduled due to COVID-19. Commenting on the challenges in drawing up an international action plan, Joyce said: “In 2022 there are scheduling challenges, what with the (FIFA) World Cup, but currently our games fit within the bye week schedules, and I don’t see that necessarily changing.

“The ability for teams to take a bye week after they go back to the US following a game is a nice option for them to have, but we can only play games, I suppose, from weeks four through to 11. With the Mexico game and our games generally falling between weeks four and 10, I don’t think that necessarily changes, even with Germany coming in as an option.

“There are so many different variables that come into the scheduling piece within New York (NFL headquarters). We will just look to our partners to find windows. Next year is a congested October, November, December, I think based on world events.”

German expansion

The NFL announced last week that the German cities of Düsseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich are in discussions to host regular-season games. The three cities were invited to proceed to the ‘candidate phase’ of the selection process following an initial period in which expressions of interest were received from multiple cities.

Düsseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich will now participate in deeper conversations about staging games in Germany. The announcement came after the NFL in June launched a process to identify a partner city for regular-season games in Germany as it looks to expand its presence in Europe. The NFL appointed The Sports Consultancy agency to assist the process to find suitable German host cities.

Joyce said that there is no definitive timeframe towards a decision on a potential German game, stating the NFL carefully plans who it decides to partner with. He added: “We’ve got some time and will work with the different consortiums from all the cities to understand the bids, the stadiums and the infrastructure around them.

“It takes a little bit of time to build an operational plan and understand it’s a partnership. The NFL is looking for a partnership with a city and to grow NFL within that city and Germany as a whole. There are lots of components to that. It’s not just the game, but foundation, community, events etc.

“I think it’s really important to understand the partner and what their goals are as a city and country. Why they want to partner with the NFL and how we can help facilitate that.

“That’s certainly how we did it with Tottenham in building a new stadium. It’s a collaboration and a partnership that has lots of facets and pushes us to support each other in a whole host of projects.”