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Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Owners OK two games per year outside USA

Associated Press

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."