The NFL’s Global Expansion: Horizontal & Downstream Through Funnels

Football ownership is being embraced in Europe and beyond!

And I’m not talking about ⚽ football, but rather 🏈 football.

Today I want to dive into:

  • NFL expansion
  • League funnel pipelines
  • And the globalization of sports

Let’s get to it 👇

Sports Leagues Go Global

Saudi Arabia is diversifying assets across the sports ecosystem…

But don’t forget that American and European leagues have been doing similar things for several years now.


The NBA has roots all over the world to funnel in top talent — along with offices in 15 countries.

Arguably 4 of the top 5 best basketball players in the world are international as well:

  • Joel Embiid 🇨🇲
  • Nikola Jokic 🇷🇸
  • Luka Doncic 🇸🇮
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo 🇬🇷

The NBA has 2.1 billion followers globally across all leagues, teams, and player platforms (70% are from outside the States).

English Premier League

The EPL is the most-watched sport globally with an audience of over 4.7 billion people with viewing options in 190 countries (there are 195 countries in the world).

Some of their popularity has to do with the fact that on average, about 70 nationalities are represented as players within the league at any given time.

nationalities of EPL players

This has further been stamped by the fact EPL teams are setting up academies all over the world to identify talent at the youngest possible ages.


The NFL has slowly expanded games to new continents as it builds up its pipelines.

Their global marketing operation now has 21 teams in 14 countries (and 40 total markets).

nfl marketing global teams per country

Teams are allowed to sell sponsorships, set up fan clubs, create alliances with local sports teams, and do almost anything they do in the U.S.

nfl germany

Which is wild considering:

  • this wasn’t allowed until 2022
  • 750,000 requests came on the day when tickets went on sale for the first NFL game to every be held in Germany last year
  • the NFL has explored adding teams in Mexico, Europe, and Australia

Reading through some comments I saw this…

I’m a rabid NFL fan here in Australia, and I’ve seen zero advertising from the Rams or Eagles.

NFL awareness is tiny here compared to the NBA, which has exploded in popularity amongst younger people.

If the NFL is serious about expanding its presence here, they’re currently doing a terrible job of it.

While the NFL might still be leaving some international marketing on the table…

It understands the importance of finding more foreign-born players — hence the NFL Africa project.

But what about leagues outside of college football?

American Football in Europe

The European League of Football (ELF) is currently in its third season with 17 teams competing for a place in the Championship Game on September 24.

More than 22,500 tickets have already been sold in advance.

European League of Football countries

The league is presented by 9 different countries:

  • Italy
  • Spain
  • France
  • Poland
  • Austria
  • Hungary
  • Germany
  • Switzerland
  • Czech Republic

And two other big announcements came out of the EFL recently

  1. Madrid will become the 18th location in 2024.
  2. Elite Sports Equity acquired a 60% stake in the Barcelona Dragons and brought together an ownership group that includes Super Bowl XLVIII MVP Malcolm Smith.

But it’s not all roses…

The Leipzig Kings announced that they will most likely have to stop competing in the ELF, citing a lack of economic and financial sustainability after an investor dropped out.

Football (not fútbol) in Africa

Africa has 1.4 billion people but it is still a largely untapped resource for athletic talent.

There are over 100 current NFL players of recent African descent, but nearly all of them were born in the United States.

So why does this matter?

The NFL hosted a handful of athletes aged 16-22 at its inaugural Africa Camp in the country of Ghana.

NFL Africa business

What’s wild…

Most of them learned football on YouTube and are now joining the NFL’s international pipeline:

  • Players aged 16–19 have the opportunity to join the NFL Academy in London, which launched in 2019 to teach and train players with the goal of securing college scholarships.
  • Athletes aged 20-24 are granted the chance to join the International Player Pathway Program, which helps them prepare for an NFL pro day.

Philadelphia Eagles star tackle Jordan Mailata was in the inaugural program and signed a $64M contract in 2022.

Recapping the Trends

Emerging sports leagues are popping up all over the world — while at the same time, traditional sports are trying to beef up their leagues globally.

  • The NFL is trying to go horizontal by entering new markets, hosting games, and then recruiting out of the leagues that emerge.
  • The NFL is also trying to go downstream by creating their own projects such as NFL Africa where they create developmental academies.

It will be interesting to see where all of this goes…

Especially considering college football could look a whole lot different in the near future.

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