NFL wants to play games in China as early as 2018

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

BOCA RATON, Fla. — The NFL could be headed to China in a couple of years. For a regular-season game, no less.

The league is looking into playing a game in China as early as the 2018 season. A detailed analysis of how much interest there would be in such a game in the world’s most populous country is under way, and is being discussed this week at the owners’ meetings. But few details, including which Chinese city the league will target, have been settled.

Quietly, several teams have expressed a willingness to be involved in a game in China, though the logistics would be more challenging than participating in annual regular-season series in London. For one, heading to China after playing a Sunday game and then suiting up again the following Sunday could be problematic considering the hefty time difference and travel involved.

This year, the NFL will stage three games in London and return to Mexico for a regular-season game in November. The London matches will feature Washington against Cincinnati and Indianapolis facing Jacksonville at Wembley Stadium, the usual venue for NFL games, with the Bengals and Jaguars as hosts. The Giants face the Rams at Twickenham Stadium, a rugby ground being used for the first time, with the Rams as host.

On Nov. 21, Oakland will host Houston at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, the first NFL game there since 2005, when Arizona beat San Francisco 31-14 before 103,467 fans.

The NFL had planned to play a preseason game in China once before, in 2007 in Beijing, but it was cancelled.

A trip to China would be the longest for the NFL, which has staged exhibition games in Japan and Australia. Preseason games were played in Tokyo in 1976, 1989-96, 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2005. One match was played in Osaka in 2002.

One game was played in 1999 in Sydney.

Germany also has expressed interest in hosting an NFL regular-season game.