When it comes to the perceived decline of the National Football League (NFL) most look at the declining television ratings and player safety concerns. Although those are some pressing concerns, one factor that is being overlooked is globalization. And for the NFL to thrive in the distant future it can’t just be an American sport.
And the NFL knows this very well. Why do you think there are more international games in London, Mexico City, and future plans for games in China? And compared to other Americans leagues like the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Baseball (MLB) the NFL is lacking in international recognition.
Although the NFL has made a concentrated effort in trying to go global its strategy is insufficient. The NFL is doing the right thing in hosting more international games to give itself more recognition, but the NFL is missing one vital aspect; culture.
Cultural expansion is just as important an expansion team. Take the NBA for example, the culture of basketball has become global with fans in every country taking in everything basketball. The NBA has taken advantage of social media in its effort to be more global. They encourage players and teams to interact with each other on twitter and sometimes their interactions go viral. Something the NFL has been slow to embrace.
In addition, the NFL needs international players on its rosters. Having just American stars on your rosters will not translate to international success. Representation is important. Again, look at the NBA. They have rosters full of international players and now some international stars. From Kristaps Porzingis (Latvia) to Giannis Antetokounmpo aka “The Greek Freak” (Greece/Nigeria) to Joel Embiid (Cameroon), the NBA has international representation. The NFL, on the other hand, has the lowest percentage of foreign-born players of all the American sporting leagues and no international stars.
The NFL has many challenges when it comes to its future in a growing global market. One of the challenges will be trying to break off the notion that it is just a sport played in America. Increasing international recognition of the sport is important but it will not mean anything if the NFL does not add more international representation.
If the NFL is not careful it may very well end up like the sport of cricket. Cricket was an immensely popular sport in the 18th century. However, cricket was predominantly an English sport and only grew fame across the British empire. Even today most of the major cricket playing countries are past British colonies. The sport did not spread past the boundaries of the British Empire (India, Australia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, West Indies, and more) and now the International Cricket Council (ICC) is paying for it as they have faced challenges in promoting cricket across the world. The sport is thriving regionally but obsolete globally. A situation the NFL may very well be in if its strategy is too focused on finance and not culture.