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NFL owners approve games abroad during regular season

Updated:
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ All those red Manchester United soccer jerseys worn every day around the world _ the NFL is looking to throw a few of its own colors into the mix.

America's most popular professional sports league will make a major play to increase its appeal to fans outside of the United States beginning next season. A plan approved by league owners on Tuesday will make regular season games kicking off on foreign soil annual events.

New commissioner Roger Goodell said the benefits of reaching an international audience outweighed the loss of some teams' home games.

``There are a number of teams that have an interest in playing,'' Goodell said. ``They see the benefits of getting the global exposure. Our focus was to get this done today so we would have the ability to do this'' in 2007.

Goodell said the NFL will start taking bids from various sites right away. The plan will start with one overseas game next season in either Canada, Mexico, England or Germany, said Mark Waller, senior vice president of NFL International.

If history is any guide, games abroad could be a smashing success.

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. While neither team was a playoff contender last season, a crowd of 103,467 flocked to Azteca Stadium, the largest crowd for a regular season game in NFL history.

``We did that with the eye toward trying to get to the point where we could have a series of regular season games'' abroad, Goodell said. ``There are competitive issues. There are logistical issues. We recognize the fan issues. But we are talking about a limited number of games that we think will have a tremendous impact. It's in response to the growing fan interest in our game overseas.''

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 league hoped to announce the first site for an overseas regular season game by this coming Super Bowl, while 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.''

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

The plan has been approved at least through 2011, but if successful would continue 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 home game 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. ``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'' in the western part of the country.
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