Real Madrid’s iconic stadium, the Santiago Bernabeu, has undergone renovations since 2019, and although the project has been marred by numerous delays, the new and improved stadium could prove to be worth the wait.
With new facilities, an updated museum and revamped shopping centre, Real Madrid fans have plenty to look forward to – but so could Spanish NFL fans. The Bernabeu will now boast a retractable playing surface, much like the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which uses their retractable pitch to stage NFL games.
It was revealed in 2021 that, with the rapid expansion the NFL had seen globally, the Spanish football giant had their eyes set on hosting an American football game sometime soon, and their newly renovated Bernabeu could provide the perfect stage. Additionally, as the Santiago Bernabeu’s capacity would increase to 85,000, there would be more than enough room to host Europe’s growing NFL fanbase.
Originally, the NFL’s International Series was limited to games in London, and at one per season, but by 2014 Wembley Stadium was hosting three regular season games each year. Eventually, the NFL spread to Twickenham, and now, the aforementioned Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mexico’s Estadio Azteca has held the Mexico Games since 2016, and the Germany Games made their debut last season at Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena, while this season’s two Germany Games will be played at Eintracht Frankfurt’s Deutsche Bank Park.
The NFL’s Global Markets Program – which allows teams to build a fanbase in different international markets – could hint at the teams most likely to participate in the NFL’s Spain Games. The Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins were awarded marketing rights to Spain, so stars like the Bears’ Justin Fields or the Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill, could well be involved.
The NFL has announced the expansion of their Global Markets Program – previously known as the International Home Marketing Areas program – which allows 21 teams the chance to grow their fanbases in 14 different international markets ?#Decyfr #NFL pic.twitter.com/GhBwhG22sR
— Decyfr Sport (@DecyfrSport) May 23, 2023
As teams have eyes set on markets all over the world, the Santiago Bernabeu may not be the only other European stadium that could feature NFL action.
Daniel Rooney, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ director of business development and strategy, recently said that the team’s “aspirations long-term are to play a game in Ireland” – a country the team has recently gained marketing access to. Pittsburgh took on the Chicago Bears in a preseason game at Croke Park in 1997, and the 82,000-seater stadium would more than likely play host to any regular season matchup.
The New Orleans Saints were presented with sole marketing access to France, and the Stade de France, with a capacity of over 81,000, appears the most likely venue for any eventual NFL game. Along similar lines, the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were granted marketing access to Austria, and the Ernst Happel Stadion is a possible home for an NFL game. But, the Austrian stadium holds around 50,000, which is significantly lower than stadiums in Europe currently hosting, or being touted to host, NFL games.
Tottenham’s North London rivals, Arsenal, could also see their stadium used for NFL games. Their owner, Stan Kroenke, owns the Los Angeles Rams, so a potential partnership stemming between the two could well be on the cards. Similarly, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are owned by the Glazer Family, who also own Manchester United – meaning Old Trafford could also be used as a venue for any NFL games held in the UK. However, neither team were awarded marketing access to the UK, so the chances of the two famous football stadiums hosting NFL games look slim, as things stand.
Both Leeds United and Fulham also have American ownership links to the San Francisco 49ers and the Jacksonville Jaguars respectively. However, the capacities at Elland Road and Craven Cottage would not make either stadium a logical choice to stage NFL games, despite both the 49ers and Jaguars having marketing rights in the UK.
As Europe’s NFL fandom grows, so will the demand for the fans on this side of the pond to watch live games. And with record-setting attendances and instant sell-outs, the NFL’s International Series may have to stage even more games to keep up with that demand.
It just remains to be seen where these games will be played. Will they be in the brand-new Santiago Bernabeu or one of the other iconic stadiums all across Europe?
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