The NFL Aims Play A Game In Abu Dhabi. Is Expansion Next?

  • The NFL is looking to expand their International Series, and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates is reportedly on the agenda for a regular-season game.
  • The Middle East has drastically tried to improve their worldwide image in recent years, getting involved in many different sports.
  • There will be concerns about sports washing in the United States, but the money might be too good to pass up for NFL owners.

It’s no secret that the National Football League is sniffing around expanding overseas. The league first visited England in October 2007 to kick off their NFL International Series. It has since spread to Germany and Mexico. The NFL will play their first game in Brazil this season, as the Green Bay Packers and the Philadelphia Eagles visit São Paulo in Week 1.

Now, it appears as though the NFL is looking to expand even further. A report from Front Office Sports, which focuses on the business of sport, claims that the NFL is considering new places to play. There is confirmation that the NFL is looking into playing in Australia.

Following Down Under? The league could be aiming to play a game in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.

NFL Game in Abu Dhabi Could Lead To Expansion Talks

A similar report from the New York Times this week claims to have information from an NFL-owners meeting in Nashville. The owners are reportedly discussing where to play regular-season games next, and Abu Dhabi is on the list.

The logistics of playing in Abu Dhabi would have to be worked out. The time difference between Abu Dhabi and Los Angeles, for example, is 11 hours, and eight hours to New York. However, it is possible. The Middle East is host to many big combat-sports events, including boxing and the UFC.

This could also lead to the NFL aiming to expand overseas. At least one player in The Athletic’s anonymous player poll said that they would play in the Middle East strictly for the money. Recently, soccer players have left the major leagues in Europe for bags of cash in Saudi Arabia.

The NFL doesn’t allow “institutional investors” to own teams. For example, in the NFL, you wouldn’t get a situation where Saudi Arabia’s PIF (Public Investment Fund) owns a team as they do with Newcastle United of the English Premier League. However, with team valuations going through the roof, the NFL might have an eye on outside investment.

There Will Be Fears Of Sports Washing

This goes together with fears of sports washing that have been levied by many critics. Since the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, Saudi Arabia has tried to improve their global image. In addition to the Newcastle takeover, PIF has also established LIV Golf, an alternative to the PGA Tour. They lured former PGA players with massive amounts of money.

It’s not just Saudi Arabia. The Abu Dhabi United Group is the majority owner of Manchester City, and the ADUG is owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Vice President of the United Arab Emirates.

In April, Awful Announcing revealed that Cleveland Browns’ quarterback Deshaun Watson (who has had his own controversies in the past) visited Saudi Arabia, and commented that he’d like to see the NFL in Saudi Arabia.

Furthermore, it’s not just the NFL. Arabian Gulf Business Insight reported last year that the NBA would “allow wealth finds to buy stakes of up to 20%” in teams. In the preseason, the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves (who are coincidentally playing each other in the NBA’s Western Conference Finals) played two games in Abu Dhabi.

There is also the emergence of the Saudi Pro League, which has players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema under their banner. Qatar also hosted the 2022 FIFA World Cup to considerable criticism, given their treatment of the LGBTQIA+ community, and women in general.

It’s going to be very intriguing to see how far this goes. Money talks, and the Middle East has lots of it to throw around. But it appears that an NFL regular-season game that you can bet on at NFL betting sites is closer than we think.  

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Elliot Nield
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Elliot Nield has worked in the online gambling industry for almost two decades, and while his focus is on sports, he doesn't mind a few hours on the poker felts and the blackjack tables. In his spare time, Elliot can be found cheering on Manchester United and the Kansas City Chiefs, and praying that Patrick Mahomes stays healthy forever.

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