American sports fans might be surprised to know just how popular some of their sports figures are around the world. More importantly, the day may come when football and basketball fans find themselves purchasing passports to support NFL or NBA teams in other countries. With each passing year, speculation about the globalization of these leagues grows.

Both the NFL and NBA have special international games, meant to increase genuine interest in their respective sports. However, a time may come when at least one of those leagues takes the steps necessary to create international teams. Before touching on that bit of speculation, it’s best to understand a bit more about the NBA and NFL’s international games, how they came to be, and what sports fans can expect in the future.

What Are The NBA Global Games?

The NBA Global Games are exhibition games played outside the United States, often either played between NBA teams or between an NBA team and a foreign basketball team. In actuality, the tradition of international basketball games didn’t begin with the Global Games. The tradition technically dates back to an exhibition game between the Washington Bullets and the Maccabi Tel Aviv in 1978.

Between 2016 and 2017, NBA teams held preseason and regular season games in Canada (which has an NBA team, the Toronto Raptors), Mexico, China, Spain, and England.

Could The NBA Go Global?

Basketball is, itself, a very popular sport with a lot of international exposure. However, there’s talk of making the NBA itself a more dominant brand by introducing foreign teams (Canada not included) to the league. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver believes the NBA could expand to include teams in Europe. However, it may take a decade or two to happen; it would take at least that long for stadiums to be built and European franchises to form.

The NFL’s International Series

The NFL’s International Series represents a week of regular season football played abroad. Prior to the International Series, the NFL used the American Bowl to expand its foreign fan base. The exhibition style games ran from 1986 to 2007. It was around this same time that the NFL Europe project ultimately folded. Rather than give up on foreign markets, the NFL kicked off the International Series, which features regular season games played in London and Mexico City.

Unlike the NBA, the NFL’s International Series focuses primarily on regular season games and strictly involves NFL teams (rather than exhibition games played against foreign American-style football teams). Still, it’s worth noting NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell actually suggested that a Super Bowl could be played in London at some point.

Will The NFL Go International?

The NFL’s International Series can boast a measurable increase in interested football fans abroad. Since 2007, participation in amateur football games rose by 15 percent every year. Outside of the NFL’s projects in Mexico and England, there’s also palpable interest in Germany, which has its own American-style football league.

The desire by the NFL to see their league go international is there. However, as with the NBA, bridging the gap seems to be very difficult. The NBA at least has an idea as to how many European teams it would need to make an expansion feasible. Meanwhile, the NFL hasn’t quite gotten past the early stages of speculation.

One thing is for certain, both the NBA and NFL have stepped up their efforts in recent years to garner international fans and business. Both seem to be looking at Mexico City and London as primary stops for garnering global exposure. However it’s hard to say which sports league is better positioned to capitalize on international attention and create new franchises. Still, it’s exciting to think of American sports taking the necessary steps to be more inclusive of foreign sports fans and athletes.

(Image courtesy Orbisnonsuficit via Flickr.)