LAS VEGAS — The NFL’s explosive growth has prompted the league to add a new destination to its international slate: Madrid, Spain.
The NFL will hold its first game in the capital of Spain in 2025, the league announced during a Friday new conference at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. In partnership with Real Madrid, the game will take place at the recently renovated Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, home to the world-famous La Liga soccer club.
“Playing a game in Madrid in 2025 highlights the continued expansion of the league’s global footprint and the accelerated ambitions to take our game to more fans around the world,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “We are proud to partner with Real Madrid C.F., a global brand, together with the City of Madrid and Comunidad de Madrid, to bring a spectacular regular season game to Spain at the world-class Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.”
In just two months, the NFL has swiftly expanded its international footprint. Spain will be the fifth different country to participate in the NFL’s International Games, following the United Kingdom, Mexico, Germany and Brazil, and the third European nation to do so. Friday’s announcement followed a Dec. 13 announcement that Brazil will host an NFL regular-season game in the 2024 campaign, the first ever to be held in South America. The Philadelphia Eagles are the designated team to play in the São Paulo game, which will take place in Week 1 on Friday, Sept. 6.
It’s all by design, according to Peter O’Reilly, NFL executive VP of club business, international and league events.
“In December, NFL owners voted to expand the number of NFL games played internationally every year, moving from four league-operated games to now up to eight regular-season games starting in 2025,” O’Reilly said Friday. “And what that does is allow us to explore new markets, new partners, new passionate fan bases around the world who love the NFL and haven’t had the chance to experience the NFL live and in-person.
“We could not be more excited to bring the best of the NFL, the best of our teams, our star players to our more than 13 million passionate fans in Spain and to partner with one of the greatest global soccer clubs in Real Madrid and a truly world-class and innovative stadium.”
The first-ever game in Madrid — for which the league unveiled a new logo proudly featuring “Madrid Game” on Friday — will take place in 2025, and not 2024, because the NFL and Real Madrid only recently finalized their agreement. The NFL isn’t in a huge hurry, though, and with the recent renovations of Bernabéu Stadium now complete, the two parties felt it was the perfect time to strike a deal.
The renovated Bernabéu Stadium features a retractable playing surface that makes it possible to replace the soccer pitch with an NFL-caliber field, eliminating a massive hurdle to holding a game at the facility. It also follows in the footsteps of Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in England, which was purposely built to serve as both the home of the Premier League club and also as a top-tier destination for international NFL games. Since its completion, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium has hosted eight NFL games, including two in the 2023 season, and in September, the NFL extended its partnership with the club through the 2029-2030 season.
Should everything go according to plan, Madrid could become the next mainstay in the international slate, which doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.
“We have learned a lot over the years,” O’Reilly said of the potential for international games, “and I think the good news is that it’s not seen, by your term, as a logistical nightmare anymore because of the way the teams, team operations folks, our operational team, has been able to deliver not only a great travel team experience, stadium experience, practice facility experience, but have been able to do that again across multiple stadiums in Europe and now South America.
“Nothing imminent in terms of going to Asia or Australia, but that’s something that we continue to consider because there are clearly great stadiums, great partners there. The travel is a factor, and that will be something we continue to look at. But there are real opportunities in real parts of the world that are important to reach with our game, and we will look to continue to do that and explore that operationally.”
Expansion of the International Series benefits the NFL beyond simply increasing the popularity of the league. With flag football entering the Olympics as an official event in 2028, the NFL is spreading the game around the globe in an effort that could even include moving the Pro Bowl Games overseas.
“We were really energized with the way the Pro Bowl Games has evolved in its reimagined form the last two years,” O’Reilly said. “To your point, with flag football at the center of it, the biggest stars in the NFL, as we saw last Sunday, having a great time and very competitively playing flag football. As I described before, that showcase that in 2028 countries around the world – both women and men – will be playing on that platform.
“We are considering all options. Clearly, the global growth of our game is important. So, looking at that are there opportunities to create more moments internationally? Nothing is imminent there, but we would not rule that out if there was the right fit and the right opportunity to add an international Pro Bowl game sometime in the future.”
For now, all that is confirmed is a game in Spain in 2025. But all signs point to a continued effort on the part of the NFL to gain a foothold in as many international nations as possible in the years to come.