Boardroom caught up with NFL Germany GM Dr. Alex Steinforth to talk about the game’s growth in Germany and what to expect this weekend in Munich.
FC Bayern Munich’s home will transform into a regulation American football field on Sunday as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks face off in the NFL’s first-ever game played in Germany. The game will kick off at 9:30 a.m. EST from Allianz Arena. Logistically, the league has already accomplished a lot since the game was announced in February, and the efforts from the NFL’s German office have only helped strengthen the excitement heading into the weekend.
Ahead of the festivities, NFL Germany GM Dr. Alex Steinforth spoke with Boardroom about the process behind hosting a league game in Munich. He also touched on flag football’s rise and whether we could even see a Super Bowl played in Deutschland one day.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
VINCIANE NGOMSI: Talk to me about the process of getting an NFL game in Munich. How did that all begin?
DR. ALEX STEINFORTH: I mean, it has been quite a process, but the interest of German sport fans and the wider German public as it pertains to American football has grown significantly. There’s a lot of history obviously with the NFL and Europe back in the 1990s and 2000s, which already laid the foundation through the traction we see in the market now. And obviously we had games in London going on for 15 years now, but it was more of a step-by-step approach when you look at internationalization within the NFL. But it just felt right, it was the point in time where you couldn’t hide the growth in Germany anymore. It really caught attention also within the league, and that’s why we started that endeavor. That’s why we invited a lot of cities in Germany to take part in that process to become a host city and that’s how we ended up in Munich.
VN: How would you describe the enthusiasm from when the game was first announced in February and now leading up to this weekend?
AS: I would say unparalleled. As you said, it’s been a crazy ride so far in the sense that we only announced our plans at the Super Bowl. So essentially that left us just eight months to host our first-ever regular season game in Germany, in a non-English speaking market and in a stadium that never hosted a non-soccer event before. And usually we would take 15, 16 months to get a new stadium ready. And when you talk about excitement, I think you just have to look at the number of fans that desperately want to get a ticket. We could have easily sold 3 million passes. If you just look at these resell marketplaces, you see crazy numbers there for tickets. So you can really tell the demand from a fan’s perspective and talking to our media partners. There’s a great deal of anticipation, but also really helpful and encouraging for us that it’s so much more than just hype. It’s really a healthy growth that has been accelerated by bringing that game to Germany.
VN: Because this is the first game in Germany and there will be people traveling for it, what sort of things can fans expect to see?
AS: Well first of all, I definitely recommend everyone in the States getting up early to watch the first-ever regular season game in Germany. For us, it’s almost like a mini Super Bowl. We’re just trying to create that experience that really differentiates the NFL from any other sport and any other league. And that’s why we’re not just focused on gameday, but also the days leading up to it. We will be investing a lot of time, money and attention on the unique experience. We’re working really closely with the city of Munich on making sure that outside of the stadium you really get that family experience with things like a quarterback challenge, 40-yard dash, authentic German and American food and a DJ on hand playing music. For the pre-game performer, we’re pleased to welcome musician Cro. We’re trying to really take over the city of Munich in a positive way and with plenty of inner city activations.
VN: The NFL’s also kind of locked in on flag football. Can you talk a little bit more about whether it will play a role in not only this weekend’s festivities, but also future games played overseas? Could we see a separate flag football entity within the NFL overseas?
AS: I mean it’s probably two angles you can take a look at flag football from. So one is obviously the overarching strategic initiative from the league together with the International American Football Federation to really get flag football into the 2028 Olympic Games. We’re moving our halftime entertainment to pre-game entertainment so we can have the German women’s national team playing flag football at halftime. Secondly, if you look at the kind of in-market perspective, flag football is one of the key puzzle pieces; it’s so important to leverage the game and make sure we max out on the impact it can have in-market.
Germany is a strong soccer market, but American football has really gained traction. It’s one of the fastest-growing sports in Germany and when you look at active players it’s still at a low level compared to soccer, but the growth rates are really good. And overall, when you talk to our colleagues from the sporting side, they are all saying Germany probably has the most developed American football ecosystem infrastructure in all of Europe. I think where we can still improve is really leveraging talent that’s already in market and making sure they have guidance and support when it comes to taking the next step. I think everyone would agree it would be great to have even more German faces in the league. We rely on tools like our NFL Academy in London and the International Player Pathway program to make sure we really identify players to play at a Division I college and then ideally end up as a draft pick.
VN: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask, but is there a possibility we could one day see a Super Bowl game played overseas, specifically in Germany?
AS: Ha, that’s probably beyond my pay grade, but I obviously wouldn’t mind. I know Commissioner [Roger Goodell] obviously made a comment on that when he was in London. Speaking for the German market, we know there’s great interest in a game of that caliber here. We definitely know we could have sold out many more than just this one game in Germany. In the end, it’s the strategic decisions for the owners to interpret how they see that going forward. Obviously they are always looking at ways to grow the game internationally, but at the moment it remains a theoretical discussion.
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