NFL

Looking at the history of NFL international games

From Toronto to London, the NFL has been exploring international cities for almost a century

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Football is an American sport, but the NFL has worked to make it a global one.

The league has routinely held games outside of the United States. While it has become a signature aspect of the NFL schedule thanks to the International Series, the history of games in other countries stretches back almost 100 years.

Just how long has the NFL been going abroad? And how does the schedule come together to give different organizations a chance to participate in an international game?

Here’s an extensive look at the NFL’s international history, along with some of the league’s plans for the future:

How many NFL regular season games have been played outside the U.S.?

Forty-five regular season games have been played outside the U.S. in NFL history.

The first ever professional football game played in another country came on Nov. 8, 1926, when the AFL’s New York Yankees beat the Los Angeles Wildcats 28-0 at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Stadium. It took almost 80 years for the NFL to hold its first international regular season game, “Fútbol Americano.” The Arizona Cardinals defeated the San Francisco 49ers 31-14 at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City on Oct. 2, 2005.

The NFL founded its International Series in 2007, sending the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins to Wembley Stadium in London to kick things off. The series has been a part of every NFL season except one since its creation. After canceling international games in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the league returned overseas with two matchups at London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in 2021.

Along with the International Series, one regular season game per season was played in Canada as part of the Bills Toronto Series from 2008 through 2013.

How many NFL preseason games have been played outside the U.S.?

While the league turned away from international regular season games after the Yankees-Wildcats tilt, it has an extensive history with international preseason play. In all, there have been 51 preseason games between NFL and/or AFL teams played outside the U.S.

The first one of those was played between the Giants and Chicago Bears at Varsity Stadium in Toronto on Aug. 15, 1960. The NFL’s first game of any kind outside of North America pinned the St. Louis Cardinals against the San Diego Chargers in Tokyo on Aug. 16, 1976.

International NFL preseason games became much more of a staple in the schedule with the founding of the American Bowl in 1986. The initiative lasted through 2005 and featured up to four international preseason games per year at its height. The series brought teams to London, Tokyo, Montreal, Berlin, Barcelona, Mexico City, Toronto, Dublin, Vancouver, Sydney and Osaka before it was abandoned.

Two more international preseason games were held in 1988. The Minnesota Vikings faced the Bears in Gothenburg, Sweden, for the Volvo American Football Classic, while the New York Jets faced the Cleveland Browns in Montreal for the Molson Challenge.

How many other NFL exhibition games have been played outside the U.S.?

Before NFL teams played against each other across the globe, they faced off against squads from other countries.

The first game between an American team and a Canadian team came in 1948. The Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes hosted the Brooklyn Dodgers of the All-American Football Conference and wound up losing 27-1.

Two years later, the Giants visited the Ottawa Rough Riders in the first NFL-CFL exhibition. The NFL and CFL met up in seven interleague exhibitions from 1950 to 1961.

Which city has hosted the most international NFL games?

London has been the site of the most international NFL games at 42. England’s capital has been the site of 33 regular season contests, more than any other international city, along with nine exhibitions.

Toronto (six) and Mexico City (five) are the only other cities outside the U.S. to host a regular season game.

Tokyo has been home to the most international NFL preseason games at 13, followed by London (nine), Toronto (six), Mexico City (six) and Berlin (five).

How does international NFL scheduling work?

Starting with the 2022 season, the league announced it would hold at least four international games each season. The league guarantees that every franchise will host one of those matchups every eight years, taking away a traditional home game. Teams can also volunteer to host international games.

With the league switching to a 17-game schedule in 2021, each conference alternates seasons in which its teams have nine home games to eight road games. For inter-conference games abroad, the home team will be the one that comes from the conference where its organizations have the additional home game on their schedule.

The NFL schedule makers take international travel into consideration for teams. In many cases, franchises that play international games get their bye the following week.

Which NFL team has played the most games outside the U.S.?

The Jacksonville Jaguars have gotten plenty of use out of their passports over the last decade.

The franchise has played an NFL-high nine regular season games outside of the U.S. All nine of those contests have been held in London, with seven played at Wembley Stadium and two played at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Jacksonville is 4-5 in London games. By comparison, the team had a 49-113 record in games played on U.S. soil from 2013 through 2022.

After the Jaguars, the Buffalo Bills have the next-most international regular season games with seven. Six of those were played as part of the aforementioned Bills Toronto Series before the team made its first trip to London in 2015.

How many times have the 49ers played outside the U.S.?

The 49ers have played in four regular season games on international soil.

While the team lost to the Cardinals in Mexico City, the 49ers have found greater success in London. They beat the Denver Broncos 24-16 at Wembley Stadium in 2010 and cruised to a 42-10 win against the Jaguars at the venue three years later.

In 2022, they played the Cardinals in Mexico City once again and earned a much better result, crushing their divisional rival 38-10.

How many international NFL games are there in 2023?

The NFL has scheduled five matchups for its International Series in 2023, and a new European city will get in the mix.

The league will make its first trip to Frankfurt on Nov. 5 when the Dolphins face the Kansas City Chiefs at Deutsche Bank Park. It will be the second regular season NFL game played in Germany after the Buccaneers beat the Seahawks in Munich last season. 

Deutsche Bank Park will hold another game the following week when the Patriots and Colts face off on Nov. 12.

The other three international tilts in 2023 will feature familiar locations. Two games will be played at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and another will be played at Wembley Stadium.

Here is the full international schedule for 2023:

  • Week 4: Atlanta Falcons vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, Wembley Stadium, Oct. 1 at 9:30 a.m. ET
  • Week 5: Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Buffalo Bills, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Oct. 8 at 9:30 a.m. ET
  • Week 6: Baltimore Ravens vs. Tennessee Titans, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Oct. 15 at 9:30 a.m. ET
  • Week 9: Miami Dolphins vs. Kansas City Chiefs, Deutsche Bank Park, Nov. 5 at 9:30 a.m. ET
  • Week 10: Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots, Deutsche Bank Park, Nov. 12 at 9:30 a.m. ET
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