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NFL looking at expanding to 17 games

Americans always seem to want more pro football. Yet it's the folks abroad who might be getting an extra taste of the NFL in the future.

NEW YORK (May 10, 2007) -- Americans always seem to want more pro football. Yet it's the folks abroad who might be getting an extra taste of the NFL in the future.

Although talks are extremely preliminary, the NFL is investigating adding a 17th regular-season game and playing it outside the United States. The extra game would take the place of one in the preseason, allowing every team to play once abroad without sacrificing a home match.

This year, the Dolphins gave up a home date in Miami to play the New York Giants at Wembley Stadium in London. Two years ago, the Arizona Cardinals played a home game in Mexico City against the San Francisco 49ers.

"It is preliminary, but we certainly are putting resources into pulling that together," said Mark Waller, NFL senior vice president, international. "For now, we have the one game per season or two per season outside of the U.S. But we know it can be tough on home fans since we're taking a game away.

"So we have asked how do we create more inventory without taking games away from fans? That idea came up in internal conversations and we now have an international committee of owners and we talked it through with them, and they asked us to do some groundwork."

While the 17th game won't get off the ground next season, for sure, it could become a staple of the NFL's schedule by 2009 or 2010. But it would present some significant logistical and scheduling challenges.

For one, if there is another week to the regular season, does that mean openers played on Labor Day weekend, something the NFL has avoided in recent years? Or does it mean pushing the Super Bowl back a week to the second Sunday in February? Or leaving the title game where it is and eliminating the week off between conference championships and the Super Bowl?

"I don't see a huge downside to a week later. The strength of the idea warrants bringing it up for discussion," Waller said.

And what about during a Winter Olympics year such as 2010?

"It might be an issue for the Olympics," he adds with a laugh.

Where would the "foreign games" be played? And how would they be divided?

Waller notes that there won't be 16 different venues for the 17th games. More likely would be a "mini-season ticket" of perhaps four games in one city or country.

"It is very early, but our thought is what we could end up with is every week there would be one international game," he said. "We won't have all of them on the same week. And what you would do is look at taking, for instance, four games to London. Play a game in Wembley each month, having eight different teams coming through. A game in September, one in October, one in November and one in December.

"It's a great opportunity from a fan perspective, because they get half of what a fan in the United States gets, four games to eight."

Aside from England, other prime areas to get games would be Germany, which has a half-dozen quality stadiums thanks to last year's World Cup; Mexico; and Canada. Waller doubts Asia or Australia would be targeted because of the travel concerns, but he doesn't dismiss anything. Or anywhere.

"It is a complex idea and it will take a lot of work on a number of sides," Waller said. "The beauty of it is it's competitively fair."

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