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The NFL has been playing games in London since 2007, and while it may seem routine at this point, this Sunday’s game between the Chicago Bears and Oakland Raiders will be a first for the league.
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The game will be the first one at the brand-new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, a $1.22 billion multi-purpose venue that includes a retractable grass field for the English Premier League soccer club with an artificial surface underneath for NFL games.
This will be the first of two games at Tottenham this season, as the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers play in the gleaming new facility. It also is the start of a run in which the 62,000-seat stadium will host a pair of NFL games yearly for the next decade.
This is "a long-term symbol of the NFL's commitment to London and the size of the NFL's fan base and energy in the UK," said Chris Halpin, the NFL's chief strategy and growth officer.
There will also be two games at Wembley Stadium, which the NFL has used since they started playing in London in 2007. The NFL claims a 15 million-strong fan base in the United Kingdom.
In recent years, the NFL has moved some of the London games to 9:30 AM eastern time to give it a full national audience. Last year’s Eagles-Jaguars game there earned a 2.2 rating and 3.59 million viewers on NFL Network, up slightly in ratings and four percent in viewership from Vikings-Browns in the same early morning window last year (2.1, 3.45M).
Though it was up for that time, the Eagles’ win was the lowest rated and least-watched NFL telecast of the season. That was the only specific rating because, since the London games are at 1 p.m. eastern – as one of many on CBS and FOX nationally at that time – it is hard to single out what the one-game viewership was.
The Bears-Raiders matchup is the 25th regular-season game the NFL has played across the pond, and the first played outside the U.S. in a stadium built for American football in addition to soccer.
As the league celebrates its 100th season, it continues to expand its foreign footprint with five international games in 2019, with one in Mexico as well. That game will feature the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams.
That one will come with a lot of meaning as the NFL returns to the country after it was forced to move last season's Chiefs-Rams game from Mexico to Los Angeles because of poor field conditions at Azteca Stadium.
The NFL has also hosted three games in Mexico City and six in Toronto.
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The interesting thing about the 33 games the NFL has held outside the U.S. is that it has only featured two winning teams facing each other, and that was when the 7-2 Raiders faced the 6-3 Texans in Mexico in 2016.
Part of it is due to the fact that the NFL sends to London its smaller markets to act as the “home team,” which has mostly been the Jacksonville Jaguars and continues with the Raiders this time.
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The NFL’s international outreach began on Oct. 2, 2005, when Robert Griffith sprinted out of a giant inflatable helmet at Mexico's famed Azteca Stadium screaming and wildly waving a Mexican flag as he charged through smoke and a corridor of cheerleaders.103,467 fans packed Mexico's largest stadium for the first regular-season game outside the United States, which Arizona won 31-14 over San Francisco.
Mexico, which has a major NFL fan base, had previously hosted preseason games, including when a record 112,376 fans attended a Cowboys-Oilers preseason game in 1994.
This year marks the 13th consecutive season that the league is playing multiple international games.
The NFL had staged a handful of exhibition games abroad, starting with the Bears' 16-7 win over the Giants on Aug. 15, 1960, at Varsity Stadium in Toronto.
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