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05 Mar 2007
Questions compiled by Aaron Schatz and Michael David Smith
A regular-season game in London, a preseason game in China -- the NFL is working hard to expand its footprint across the globe. Mark Waller oversees all of this development as senior vice president of NFL International. Born in Kenya, raised in the United Kingdom, Waller has lived in the United States since 1996 and worked for the NFL since February of last year. He recently agreed to take questions from Football Outsiders, particularly from our extensive international readership.
Football Outsiders: First of all, tell our readers about your background, and how a British businessman came to love American football and work for the National Football League.
Throughout my business career, I've always maintained a great passion for sports. I had always admired the tremendous success the NFL seemed to enjoy, and when the opportunity came for me to be a part of the organization, I eagerly took advantage of it.
Football Outsiders: Obviously, there has been a huge amount of interest in the Dolphins-Giants game in London. What activities does the NFL have planned around the game, to help spread football in England past just that single contest?
One of the major points we stressed to ownership last fall was that we would not undertake the international regular-season game initiative in a vacuum. The games would be part of a larger strategy to help increase the popularity of our sport worldwide, focusing on the markets we identified for regular-season games ... the UK, Germany, Canada, and Mexico. We are still working on the ancillary events that will surround the game, but the idea is to allow the people of London and beyond to participate in the NFL coming to town in a variety of ways, even if they are unable to attend the actual contest at Wembley.
Football Outsiders: What is the current status of NFL Europa? Every year we seem to hear rumors that some owners no longer want to support it.
It's really a new beginning for the league, but it comes at a crucial time. We moved the league office from London to Frankfurt, Germany. We have a new leadership team in place. The name of the league has been changed to NFL Europa, to more closely identify it with fans in Europe, and we have a new logo. The league is beginning its 15th season, and our goal is to see improvement across the board in a variety of areas, from attendance to sponsorship to the play on the field. The owners have approved NFL Europa through 2009, and we're looking forward to another exciting season.
The rest of our questions were submitted by FO readers.
Martin Driver: The UK's World League/NFL Europe teams, the Monarchs and the Claymores, both failed. Are there any plans to reintroduce a British team in NFL Europa? Could the NFL alter the way NFL Europa works in order to generate more interest?
We are always looking for ways to improve the league, so we consider new ideas constantly. Right now, our focus is on strengthening the six teams in NFL Europa before we consider adding others, so no, at this point there are no plans to re-introduce British teams.
Horacio Hernandez: What would it take for the NFL to open a franchise in another country, both in general and specifically in Mexico?
Well, the world gets smaller all the time. Commissioner Goodell has said that he could one day envision an NFL franchise beyond the borders of the United States. So in that respect, it is certainly a possibility. Much like in the United States, factors that would be considered include if there is a stadium that can offer a first-class NFL experience, is the local business community behind the effort, and is the fan support there to sustain an NFL team on the ground. Those are all factors that would play a part in such a decision.
Sergio Becerril Lopez: What's the best way to get official NFL merchandise outside of the United States? I've bought some stuff over NFLshop.com, but international purchases are still difficult (mostly due to customs), and there isn't a lot of variety in the few stores that carry official merchandise down here (in Mexico).
Right now, the ways you mention would be your best options. We are always seeking to find the best methods to deliver NFL products to fans, and we will continue to try to make this as easy as possible for fans outside the United States.
Bengt Bischof: If Germany is the most promising European market for the NFL, why are both the amount and quality of TV coverage going downhill, and can we expect a more regular TV coverage of NFL games in the future? At the moment, selected (my guess is 10-20 percent of Germans) cable TV customers have good coverage by the British NASN channel; the others have only the Super Bowl. Until a couple of years ago, several games each week were available for everybody on pay TV over satellite, one of them usually free-to-air. In the Super Bowl broadcast on free TV this year, we had Boris Becker as an "expert" (it seems he lives in Miami, thus qualifying him for the job).
Our goal is to strike the best deals possible for our fans and our television partners and we will continue to do that. But the dynamics of how fans consume sports are changing dramatically. We have seen that with the popularity of video-on-demand content as well as other forms of new technology. We continue to be creative in these approaches as well as always respect the traditions of the NFL.
Levente: Does NFL plan to promote itself on foreign markets through developing foreign players?
We are always seeking to increase the number of people playing our sport. We have seen examples time after time of a local athlete succeeding in a sport, sparking others to follow. We have several programs in place, from the international players competing in NFL Europa, to the practice squad player development program to our grassroots and youth initiatives, that are working to increase the number of football players around the world.
(Readers may be interested in this article from Sunday's New York Times about the league's attempt to groom a Chinese kicker.)
Sergio Becerril Lopez: What's the best way for a football player/coach in Mexico to get to the NFL? Does the NFL scout ONEFA (Mexico's top college league), or is the player meant to send his own tape to NFL teams? Do they have to enter the NFL Draft? Are there any official channels already in place?
NFL teams have shown, if talent is out there, they will find it. There is no single best way to make it to the NFL from Mexico, but of course, succeeding in the Mexican collegiate leagues is a good way to start, coupled with getting that videotape of players before NFL personnel staffs.
James: Are there any plans to create Pop Warner and/or youth leagues in the UK? If so will the NFL provide funding for equipment and personnel? If not, I fear that the London game will be a "flash in pan," followed by indifference as usual.
We plan to make sure that the regular-season game in London is not a one off event but part of a broader strategy to grow our sport in the United Kingdom. We are still working on what specific programs will aid this effort, but certainly engaging youth will be a key initiative.
Dori Reichmann: In addition to being an enthusiastic reader of Football Outsiders, I also take part in an active attempt to establish an amateur American football league in Israel. Are there any activities (ongoing or planned) aimed to help development of football beyond a spectator sport in countries outside the USA and NFL Europa countries?
We support football and wish it to succeed wherever it is played. That said, our resources are not unlimited and we are focusing on the countries in which we seek to play regular-season games ... Canada, Germany, Mexico, and the United Kingdom, along with continuing to grow our sport in Japan and introducing it in China. Right now, those are our priorities.
Stan McKeon: I would like to know what the NFL plans to do in promoting the game in Australia in the future. There are currently two Australian punters in the NFL (Ben Graham and Mat McBriar) and a third has just signed with the Eagles (Sav Rocca). It seems the NFL does little to no promotion in Australia where there is an untapped source of strong, athletic sportsmen with great hands and tackling ability.
As much as we would love to invest in programs in every country, it is simply not feasible. We hope more and more players from Australia make an impact in the NFL, and this will certainly impact the league's popularity in that country.
Kalyan Chatrathi: With a significant Indian population returning back from education/jobs in America, and many having strong ties with their local NFL teams, doesn't India make for a larger market than China in terms of near-term potential? Couple that with the way viewership in English Premier League has taken off in the last few years due to availability on ESPN-Star Networks and even the media following EPL; wouldn't making more NFL games available on television and having an exhibition game in India make more sense than China -- a market with larger potential but significantly less development than India currently?
We have had flag football programs in Chinese schools as part of the physical education curriculum for several years. We feel that with the Olympics coming to Beijing in 2008, our China Bowl game in that country as part of the one-year countdown to the Olympics is an excellent opportunity for us to begin to grow our sport in this market. However, that does not mean we will not consider other areas, and in the future, perhaps an American Bowl game in India could one day become a reality.
Ian Hardingham: How would you rate the success of NFL Game Pass in association with Yahoo! in its opening season? What changes can we expect next year?
The internet will be a growing aspect of servicing our global fans, and we are very pleased with our initial efforts in this area. We had a great consumer reaction because it's a terrific product. Next year we will be more aggressive in promotion and hope to be even better than in year one.
JÃ©rÃ©mie (France): Since we can't watch the playoffs live, does the NFL intend to put the playoffs on Yahoo's NFL Game Pass?
This is an evolving area of technology and we will continue to study the best ways to bring our game to the fans.
Bill Miller: The official distributor of NFL games on DVD in Europe, Pontel, does a nice job, but in the age of Internet the delivery time is too slow and the cost per game too high. Don't you think the future is iTunes-style downloading?
I think this issue will ultimately be settled by the consumer and it will be up to us to deliver content in the means in which you wish to consume it. This is why we are aggressive in developing and exploring new technologies to grow our fan base.
Football Outsiders thansk Mark Waller for taking the time to answer these questions.
57 comments, Last at 14 Mar 2007, 11:04am by Paulo Sanchotene, Brazil