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Exclusive: NFL UK chief Henry Hodgson talks European expansion, London franchise and Super Bowl

NFL UK general manager Henry Hodgson spoke exclusively to Planet Sport about the state of the game in the UK and London.

Hodgson also talked about plans for this year's International Series fixtures, the future plans for a team or even division in Europe and what the chances were of even the Super Bowl being played across the Atlantic. 

The UK will have three games again for NFL fans to watch, with the Jacksonville Jaguars back for their regular stop at Wembley while the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans will play at Tottenham and the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots head to Germany.
Interest in the NFL has never been greater across the Atlantic than right now, and Hodgson says that Germany earned a second game this year after everyone at the NFL was blown away by the response of the fans to last year's game in Munich between the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
We managed to catch up with Hodgson in Phoenix ahead of Super Bowl LVII, where he spoke about the NFL's future plans in the UK, how the match-ups are made, the possibility of a European division and even what chance there is of a Super Bowl being held outside the United States.

There will be two games in Germany this year, did the amazing atmosphere in Munich surprise the NFL?

"I wasn't surprised by Germany, I was lucky enough to be around when the NFL Europe was around so I know how passionate the fans are there and I knew there'd be a big appetite for the game.

"And I know how loud the fans are there. It was such a great experience being there in Munich so it's exciting to have two games in Germany this year.

"With the Estadio Azteca getting renovated for the World Cup we had a space for an international game and it made sense to have a second game in Germany."

Could the NFL expand into another European country?

"There's no one market that we're looking at as 'the next one up' but France and Spain in Europe are two markets we think there's an opportunity in - we need to grow the fanbases there first though before a game becomes a logical step."

Will the NFL play a game in Scotland or Ireland?

"When it comes to the UK, and Ireland, they're very much on our radar as places where the game is really growing, but I don't know whether we'd get to the point of playing games.
"A lot of it comes down to stadiums, there are very few stadiums, Croke Park probably fits the bill as college football has proved that they can do it there, but there's much more to consider.
"And we have such a great long-term relationship with Tottenham and the Jags have this relationship with Wembley on-going, so for now in the immediate term they'll be the stadiums we'll be using for games."

What are the chances of an NFL team being moved to London?

"I can definitely see it in the future, all we can do is grow the fanbase and put the conditions in place for a team to thrive in the UK and take it from there. Ultimately we'd need an NFL owner to see that the UK was ready to support a team and then be willing to put a franchise into London.
"We've looked at everything already, absolutely, all the logistics have been examined, and multiple things such as player contracts have been looked at with pieces that are more viable and those that would need more work being looked at.
"But for us it's really just putting everything in place so that if a team did want to move over the UK would be ready to catch the opportunity."

Will there be more London games or is three the limit for now?

"Inventory is always the biggest issue with us playing more international games as a whole, so I think for the UK for now, three games is probably where we're going to be at.
"Then for the UK or other markets, one of the determining factors will be if a team is willing to take one of their home games regularly to the international market, and that's where the home marketing program could build into it and tames could follow that Jags model of playing more games each year in their markets."

So one of the six teams with UK marketing rights could separately decide to play a game over here and run it themselves?

"It's not quite so simple! But yes, effectively if one of these teams wanted to play a game internationally in their market every year then they'd come to the NFL and discuss that and possibly follow what the Jags are doing at Wembley - playing games separately from those scheduled every eight years by the NFL.
"Last year they took an extra step with the Jags running their own game last year instead of it being an NFL-run game, and that's possibly something a team with marketing rights in the UK could decide to do.
"It's the Jags themselves that have made a determination to play a game at Wembley every year but for the other teams there's a commitment to playing one internationally as a designated home team over a span of eight years, so that means a team effectively loses one of their home games."

We know the 2023 NFL International Series home teams, but how do you work out who they'll play?

"Teams have the opportunity to bring a divisional game internationally or not, they can also protect one game as well, so if there's one team they think will draw a big crowd or for footballing reasons they can make sure they play that one game at home.
"We'll then make a list of teams we'd like them to play from a priority standpoint before some negotiations with the NFL scheduling team, with the club etc to determine who it is they'll play.
"That process is ongoing at the moment with the three games in the UK and two in Germany, and we'll find out who they will be playing in early May when the schedule comes out."

As we're at the Super Bowl this week, what are the chances of a Super Bowl ever being played in the UK?

"I always say it's a great dream to have, but the Super Bowl is so wrapped up in americana and it's such an integral part of America, I think it's highly unlikely to happen outside the USA.
"But we have to dream big, we have to stretch ourselves and who knows, if there was a franchise in London then maybe that is a moment where the NFL would see the game's grown enough in London for a Super Bowl to happen."

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