BOCA RATON, Fla. -- The Los Angeles Rams are at the head of the line to be the home team for the NFL's first regular-season game in China.
Although plans are not yet finalized, the Rams are in discussions with the NFL to play host in the 2018 season, a team source confirmed Wednesday. Two more league sources indicated the Rams had been prominently involved in the conversation about the game at the annual owners meetings here this week.
On Wednesday morning, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that no decision on participants has been finalized, but there's no shortage of willing teams.
"We actually have multiple teams that are interested in playing," Goodell said. "We have more than we can handle at this point in time, which is a good issue. I think teams are interested in one, participating in how we expand our game on a global basis, but in particular in China. So we will have to go through that process over the next several months. And continue to get to the point where we believe if we do this, we can be successful. At this point, we do. And that's why we spoke about it publicly this week."
The Rams' fit in China makes sense from a logistical standpoint. The team's Los Angeles relocation agreement included a clause stipulating that the Rams would participate in one international game in each of the next three years.
If the trip to China is finalized, the Rams' 2018 home opponents include the Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs and the NFC East team that finishes at the same spot in its division as the Rams do in the NFC West in 2017.
If the Rams indeed land in China in 2018, that would leave open the possibility for another trip in 2017. After that three-year window, the Rams will resume playing a full eight-game home schedule when they open their new Inglewood stadium in 2019.
Giants owner John Mara said he could see why teams would be interested in playing in China, but he doesn't count his franchise among them.
"I think there's a feeling that our game could be very attractive over there and generate a lot of interest," Mara said. "But I'm sure not volunteering to play over there. That's a tough trip. I don't know how you do that. You certainly have to give them a week off afterward. And even a week before -- it's a pretty tough trip."
Asked about the Rams possibly playing there, Mara said simply "God bless them."
The NFL has been working to expand its global brand with three London games and a game in Mexico City set for 2016.
Germany has also been brought up as a possible future international series host. For now, the NFL has its eye on the Far East.
"I think the size and the influence of China in the global marketplace is obviously something you can't ignore," Goodell said. "You can't ignore that as a sport or business or as a nation. So from our standpoint, we know we have lots of fans over there and more importantly potential fans over there, so we had a number of activities that are designed to increase the popularity of our game over there to give them a better sense of our game and a regular-season game has proven to be a real driver to that type of activity."