Fort Lauderdale Fla. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the absence of the NFL from Asia at a news conference on Friday.
The NFL has brought 14 preseason games — dubbed the American Bowl — to Japan, including eight straight years between 1989 and 1996. But since 2005, when the current Super Bowl XLIV participant Indianapolis Colts took on the Atlanta Falcons at Tokyo Dome, there have not been any games played on Asian soil.
“I spent quite a few years in Japan with the American Bowl series and our partners trying to develop the game,” Goodell said at the media center for the Super Bowl XLIV. “We have some great fans over there who really understand the game of football. I think it is important for us to continue to be there.”
The league, however, has been putting more emphasis on playing regular-season games in North America and Europe, taking a distance from Asia, in the last few years.
On Oct. 2, 2005, the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers staged the league’s first regular-season contest in Mexico. Then, games took place on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. In the 2007 season, the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins played at Wembley Stadium, and London has hosted two games since.
Next season, the Denver Broncos and 49ers are scheduled to play in London.
So is Asia going to permanently be invisible from the NFL, which is trying to expand its fan base globally?
Goodell denied the notion. But he admitted that the league’s focus is to hold regular-season games abroad, instead of preseason ones.
The NFL has set its sights on having a greater presence in China, where there’s a rapidly growing market. A first-ever preseason game was scheduled to be held there in August 2007, but was postponed to 2009 and ultimately canceled.
“We have determined though, in the short term, where our focus needs to be as far as regular-season games,” Goodell said. “There are some unique challenges in playing a regular-season game in the Far East. They are unique challenges but we think we can address them.
“But what we are trying to do with each step is be successful and I think we are showing that it can be very successful — by our first game in Mexico, a regular-season game, and our series in the U.K.”
Goodell said that the NFL has not necessarily abandoned the Asian region but wants to make sure whether it is marketable to have a game there again.
“At some point, in time, we would love to be back in Japan and to the Far East. It is an important market for us and we want to be there. In the meantime, we are going to focus on what we can do to get there with media because media is giving us more of an opportunity to reach those fans directly and we can get them engaged in the game that way.”