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Friday, June 29, 2007
NFL folds Europe league, to focus on regular-season games abroad

Associated Press

FRANKFURT, Germany -- The NFL folded its development league in Europe after 16 years on Friday, calling the decision a sound business move that will allow for a stronger international focus on regular-season games outside the United States.

The announcement came less than a week after the Hamburg Sea Devils beat the Frankfurt Galaxy 37-28 in the World Bowl title game in Frankfurt before a crowd of 48,125. Five of the league's six teams are based in Germany, with the other in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

A statement on the German-language edition of the NFL's Web site said the NFL decided to concentrate its "strategies and resources" on regular-season games outside the United States in an effort to reach as many people as possible.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell thanked the fans for their support but said it was time to develop a new international strategy, terming the move to fold NFL Europa the ``best business decision.'' The league reportedly was losing about $30 million a season.

"From now on we will focus on regular-season games and use new technologies to make NFL more popular worldwide," he said.

NFL team owners decided in October to play up to two regular-season games outside the United States. The first such game is Oct. 28 in London between the Miami Dolphins and the New York Giants.

The league said it is looking toward other regular-season games in Germany, Mexico and Canada, with Germany a strong candidate for 2008.

"NFL Europa has created thousands of passionate fans who have supported that league and our sport for many years," said Mark Waller, senior vice president of NFL International. "And we look forward to building on this foundation as we begin this new phase of our international development."

The league began in 1991 as the World League of American Football, with 10 teams from the United States and Europe, spreading from Scotland to Spain. After closing for two seasons in 1993 and 1994, the league returned with six European teams and retained the same format until the end.

The league was used by NFL teams to test young talent and produced players such as quarterback Kurt Warner, who led the St. Louis Rams to the 2000 Super Bowl championship and won two NFL Most Valuable Player awards; Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme; and star Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri.

NFL Europa managing director Uwe Bergheim said the league had succeeded in establishing a fan base for football in important European markets.

"Despite the great support of fans, business partners and the cities where we were active, we decided that it was time to change the strategy," Bergheim said.