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Owners OK two games per year outside USA

10/25/2006 - NFL

NEW ORLEANS -- Up to two NFL regular-season games will be
played each year outside the United States starting in 2007, with
possible sites limited at first to Mexico, Canada, England and
Germany.

The plan, first announced last month, was approved Tuesday at
the recommendation of new commissioner Roger Goodell, who said the
benefits of reaching an international audience outweighed the
negatives of some teams having to give up home games.

"We are talking about a limited number of games that we think
will have a tremendous impact," Goodell said. "It's in response
to the growing fan interest in our game overseas. There are more
and more fans on a global basis."

Mark Waller, senior vice president of NFL International, said
the league expected to schedule only one overseas game in 2007.

No specific sites were given for the games. However, Waller said
the league hoped to announce the first site by this coming Super
Bowl, while the teams would be selected later.

"Germany has a large number of sites as it's just done the
World Cup. UK has a significant number of great sites," Waller
said. "We know the sites in Mexico and Canada, so there's no
shortage of venues that are interested in these games."

The plan would be set up so that teams would rotate over a
16-year period, with each team playing outside the country twice
over that span, once as a visitor, the other as a home team. That
means a team would lose one game team during that span.

"Obviously the league's going to work out the economics and if
we lose a home game, we'll get compensated," said Pat Bowlen,
owner of the Denver Broncos. "We're comfortable with it. Obviously
we'd like to play in Mexico or Canada and not have to travel to
Europe and that's probably the way it would be set up because of
our location. But as far as the league's concerned, I think it's a
great idea."

In 2005, the NFL staged its first regular-season game outside
the United States when the Arizona Cardinals hosted the San
Francisco 49ers in Mexico City. A crowd of 103,467 flocked to
Azteca Stadium, the largest crowd for a regular-season game in NFL
history.

The league also has played numerous exhibition games overseas
for the past two decades. The New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks will play a preseason game next August in Beijing.

Waller said the international popularity of certain teams would
not necessarily determine who goes abroad. He said people in
foreign markets were more concerned with simply hosting a regular
season game, rather than exhibitions in which the best players tend to
see little action.

"The overwhelming preference is the game itself," Waller said.

NFL games regularly have been televised live in Mexico and
Canada and more recently in Europe, notably Britain.

The owners also voted to take the league's Web site, NFL.com,
in-house after allowing CBS SportsLine to operate it for the past
five years. The league plans to relaunch the site next spring with
the help of other league-owned media such as NFL Films and the NFL
Network.

The visit to New Orleans was a short one as most owners arrived
either Monday night or Tuesday morning and left Tuesday evening.

Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, before he officially
left the job over the summer, had called for the regularly
scheduled October meetings to be held in New Orleans as part of the
league's show of support for the city as it rebuilds from Hurricane
Katrina.

Owners and the commissioner said they have marveled at the
repairs made to the Louisiana Superdome in less than a year and
praised area fans for selling out the Saints' home stadium for the
whole season.

However, Saints owner Tom Benson, while pleased with the
progress, said the Saints still have nearly 30 of 137 suites in the
Superdome unsold and added that his team lagged behind others in
corporate sponsorships.

"Our sponsorship's nowhere near the level of the rest of the
league," he said. "Our hospitality industry especially needs to
come forward. I don't want to finger point or anything, but we have
to work together in order to make this thing successful.

"The long-term market, nobody can tell right now," Benson
continued. "But a year ago, before Katrina, we weren't quite sure
and look what we've done. There's no telling what could happen."

As for when New Orleans, which has hosted nine Super Bowls,
might get it's first since 2002, team owners were optimistic but
noncommittal.

"I don't know about the next Super Bowl in line, but obviously
New Orleans has always been a great place to host Super Bowls,"
Bowlen said. "I'd expect you'd see
more."

Goodell said the bidding process for the 2011 Super Bowl will
begin soon with a decision hopefully made by the next owners'
meeting, slated for March in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Goodell said he has not spoken to New Orleans officials about a
possible Super Bowl yet.

The Saints' lease in the Superdome ends that same season. So
without an extension, the league would risk the awkward situation
of placing a Super Bowl in a city that is in the process of losing
its NFL franchise.

One of the cities often cited as a possible future home for the
Saints or another small-market team is Los Angeles. Owners
discussed a pair of proposals for a stadium in that area -- either a
renovated Los Angeles Coliseum or a new stadium in Anaheim -- but
there was no substantial progress made toward bringing the NFL back
to the area.

One increasing concern is projected construction costs now
escalating in the range of $1 billion. That makes the project
decreasingly attractive to the league unless the costs are shared
with the southern California public or a possible outside investor,
several owners said.

"At this meeting, I don't think [NFL owners] were prepared to
pay that for Los Angeles' stadium," Benson said. "I don't know if
somebody else is out there that's willing to come into the NFL and
do that or not. At this moment, I think it's on the back burner."