The National Football League has its sites set on Canada as part of the expanded 17-game regular season schedule.
It marks the first change to the season structure since the 1978 campaign ushered in an era of 16 regular season and four pre-season games. All 32 NFL teams approved the addition during owners meetings and commissioner Roger Goodell called the move a “monumental moment” in the league’s history.
“Our focus in the context of developing a restructured season was to create the inventory, create the games, create the matchups and create the ability for us to bring our games to a global audience,” Goodell said on a conference call.
The enhanced season will ensure that beginning in 2022, every franchise will play internationally at least once every eight years. 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 United Kingdom.
“We have passionate fans in so many markets. Canada, obviously, we have a tremendous history there. We have a tremendous fanbase and our intent will be to continue to try to service as many fans. Obviously, we have limited inventory, limited number of games but Canada is a very important market,” Goodell said.
The Buffalo Bills played the role of home team for the only regular season games ever put on in Canada, which all came during the Bills in Toronto series. Buffalo played one regular season game per year from 2008 to 2013 at Rogers Centre. The NFL wants to play football that counts in the standings north of the border once again in the future.
“We have a tremendous fanbase in Canada we actively serve, and we would love to play regular season games in Canada. Any market where we’re going to play an international series game, we need the fanbase, we need the support from the local governments and then we also need a stadium that meets our standards,” executive vice president, chief strategy and growth officer Christopher Halpin said on a conference call.
“The first two we think are in place in spades in Canada, but we need a stadium. We wouldn’t cut corners or any of that. We need one that meets our standards, our requirements and will hold an NFL game well. We’re continuing to work with local authorities and partners on that, but there’s definitely more work to do.”
Goodell has said in the past Toronto would “a great city for an NFL team,” but there needs to be a state of the art stadium for a team there or elsewhere in Canada. Perhaps regular season games in Canada could be a test run for another potential pitch for a franchise on the other side of the 49th parallel.