Why does the NFL play in London?

As the NFL returns to London in 2021, why does the league play games in the UK, and what does the NFL's international future look like?

The 2021 season will see the NFL play their 29th and 30th regular-season games in London since the International Series began in 2007. Since that debut game in 2007, the NFL has played at least one game in London every year except for 2020. But why does the NFL play games in London, and what is the long-term aim of the NFL with their International Series?

The origin of NFL games in London

While the first international NFL game to be held in London took place in 2007, the wheels were officially put in motion in 2005. Following the 2005 preseason game between the Atlanta Falcons and Indianapolis Colts, the league finished the American Bowl. The American Bowl had seen the NFL play preseason games regularly between 1986 and 2005.

At the same time, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced the end of NFL Europa. The league had formerly been known as the World League of American Football and NFL Europe. The final season of NFL Europa would take place in 2007 — the same year the NFL began playing regular-season games in London.

Initially, the belief was that the NFL was lining London up to have their own team. Goodell also discussed the potential of playing the Super Bowl in London in the future.

The future could look very different

However, in 2021, it seemed as though the NFL had a new plan in mind for their international games, including London. In the same meeting where the new 17-game regular season was approved, the NFL made changes to the international games set up.

Each year there will be a minimum of four international games held. Each of the 32 teams will host at least one game over an eight-year cycle. However, it’s key to note that it is a minimum of four games.

For example, the Jacksonville Jaguars could still continue to host a game internationally on an annual basis. They can do so, even when it is not their turn in the rotation. That would then result in five international games.

However, according to a report by Peter King, the NFL will look to go further afield than just London. Among those four rotational games, Mexico City, Canada, and potentially places like Germany, will be considered.

What NFL teams will play in London in 2021?

The 2021 NFL season will see four teams return to London who have been there before. The New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons will each be making their second appearance in London, while the Miami Dolphins will be playing their fifth game and the Jacksonville Jaguars their eighth.

The four teams have mixed fortunes when playing in London. The Jets defeated the Dolphins in their first trip, while the Falcons suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Detroit Lions. The Dolphins are 1-3 in London, and the Jaguars are 3-4, but come into this game on a two-game losing streak in London.

However, this will be the first time any of the four teams have played at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. All four previously played their games at Wembley.

Will the NFL move any teams to London?

It seems less and less likely that the NFL will move a franchise to London. When the NFL expanded the number of games from one to four between 2012 and 2017 it was viewed as a test to see whether London could host as many as eight games in a single season.

The NFL has also utilized three stadiums in London during their time playing games there. The majority have been hosted at Wembley Stadium. However, Twickenham Stadium has also hosted three games, and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is hosting its third and fourth games in 2021.

However, the new announcement regarding the future of international NFL games would suggest those plans have somewhat shifted. It now appears the NFL’s focus is on taking the game to more countries. They will do so while still trying to retain the fan base they have grown in the United Kingdom.

The future of the NFL in London may not have a franchise in the plans. However, London has continually sold out the stadium for the games hosted there. Therefore, London should continue to take center stage in the NFL’s international agenda over the coming years.

Ben Rolfe is a Senior Managing Editor at Pro Football Network and is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN.