Guten Tag, willkommen in Deutschland. Thousands of Colts fans will be hearing this, or similar sentiments this Sunday as Indianapolis takes on New England in Frankfurt. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of the fans who managed to secure tickets to the game. Nevertheless, this remains a major event for this self-appointed Blue Stable European Correspondent.
Sunday’s game will be the first time the Colts have played in Europe since they lost to Jacksonville in London in 2016. The game’s popularity across the UK and Europe has surged in the years since and it’s fantastic to be part of the NFL’s international growth as a British fan. Whilst I’m yet to be able to go to a Colts game, I have been able to enjoy two London games in recent years. Even if I won’t be in Frankfurt, it’s great to watch this Sunday as Indianapolis continues to be part of the continued growth of this great sport on my continent.
London has hosted more games and better teams in recent years as the sport has grown quickly across the UK. But over the past two years, we’ve risked being put to shame by our friends in Germany. The Munich crowd was raucous for Tampa Bay vs Seattle last year and Frankfurt was rocking last week to see Kansas City best Miami. I’m sure it will be no different this Sunday.
Football’s International Growth
— Fanatics (@Fanatics) November 7, 2023
The incredible growth of the NFL in the UK has long sparked rumors of one day having a London-based NFL franchise. Last year NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suggested that London could even potentially support two franchises as part of a European division. The success of the NFL’s Germany games over the past two years suggests Germany could also sustain an NFL franchise in the years to come.
I certainly don’t expect it to happen anytime soon, but the ever-increasing popularity of the NFL in Europe means that a European division with two teams each from the UK and Germany is foreseeable. There are a lot of barriers to break, questions to answer, and details to sort out before Europe has one franchise, let alone four. But at least commercially and financially, that European division would be viable.
International Success is Surging as of Late
The international growth of the NFL goes beyond the shores of Europe and beyond just where NFL games are being played. Through the NFL Academy and International Player Pathway Program is recruiting and developing talent from around the world. Philadelphia Eagles Left Tackle Jordan Mailata is the great success story from the early years of the program.
I strongly suspect he won’t be the last ex-rugby player to find success in the NFL (don’t be surprised if ex-rugby and Gaelic football players dominate kicking in the NFL in a few years’ time). But as the continued growth of the sport in Europe leads more young people to play the sport, I’d expect the pathway to eventually include more people who have focused on American football (sorry US readers, that must irritate you as much as you calling football soccer does us).
— NFL (@NFL) May 3, 2022
Indianapolis has its own player from the International Player Pathway Program. Sunday promises to be a special day for Germany’s own Marcel Dabo. Dabo remains on the Colts Practice Squad as a safety. The hope has to be that by the time Indianapolis plays another game in Europe, Dabo will have developed to secure his own spot on the main roster. The Colts also have their own international Left Tackle, although Bernhard Raimann found his own way to the NFL. Raimann hails from Austria, which neighbours Germany and shares a language, alongside other aspects of their cultures. No doubt Sunday will be a special day for Raimann, too.
"Back then I was playing soccer and the Bundesliga was the biggest league around. That was the biggest stage you could ever perform in front of. I don’t think I would’ve ever believed you if you told me that back then."https://t.co/GSmsl2ZFaN
— JJ Stankevitz (@JJStankevitz) November 8, 2023
We can expect the number of international players in the NFL to increase substantially as a result of Flag Football’s inclusion at the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. NFL stars are already lining up to declare their interest in being part of Team USA’s Flag Football team, which will do wonders to promote Flag Football worldwide. Providing the sport continues to be included in future Olympic Games, I’d expect countries like Great Britain and Germany to be contenders in years to come (although as in Basketball, I don’t expect much challenge to the USA’s dominance).
Football’s Extended Influence Via Olympic Invitation
Flag Football’s inclusion in the Olympics will incentivize countries to develop the sport at a grassroots level. And it will be much easier for countries like the UK to develop Flag Football leagues for children and young people than it will be to develop full-contact American football ones. Those leagues will give children a taste of American football, creating more fans for the sport and creating a larger pool of players for UK American football leagues to draw from.
— USA Football 🇺🇸🏈 (@USAFootball) October 16, 2023
In time I’d expect US Colleges to focus more on recruiting talent from the UK and Germany to the extent that College football becomes the most common way for British and German players to end up in the NFL. That would free up programs like the International Player Pathway to focus on countries that don’t have such a strong American football infrastructure or grassroots game.
To most of you readers, Sunday may seem like just another Colts game. Or perhaps it is a great excuse for a trip across the pond. But to a British fan like me, this Sunday represents another milestone in the development of the NFL in Europe. It’s an exciting journey that I’m pleased the Colts are able to be a part of this Sunday.
The continued growth of the NFL in Europe and across the globe can only be a good thing for the sport. I hope the ever-increasing popularity of the game on this side of the Atlantic is as exciting for American fans as it is for us. I look forward to watching a Team GB Flag Football team in 2028 and one day a London-based NFL franchise. But before that, I’ll just look forward to what I hope and expect will be a Colts win over the Patriots—followed of course by RedZone and seven hours of commercial-free football. It’s a good time to be an NFL fan in the UK.
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