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Looking for growth, the NFL keeps its eyes fixed overseas

  • NFL ratings in the United Kingdom have soared more than 60 percent on Sky TV, given a significantly smaller fanbase and highlights from the BBC.
  • Wall Street has grown cautious on shares of media companies, worried about weaker football ratings in the United States.
  • The Arizona Cardinals will play the Los Angeles Rams in Twickenham on Sunday, marking the third of four games to be played in the country this season.
  • The next countries the league would likely consider include China and Canada.
Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates as he runs in for a touchdown during the NFL International Series Game between Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals at Wembley Stadium on October 30, 2016 in London, England.
Getty Images
Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates as he runs in for a touchdown during the NFL International Series Game between Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals at Wembley Stadium on October 30, 2016 in London, England.

The first half of the NFL's season has been less than ideal — at least, in the United States. While the league deals with player protests and weaker performance domestically, its ratings in the United Kingdom have soared over 60 percent in the past year.

While NFLUK's Alistair Kirkwood hedges that on the significantly smaller size of the audience, he's still happy about it.

"We're at the stage where we have 2 big TV deals: Our big partnership is with Sky and we also have a relationship with the BBC," Kirkwood told CNBC. "As of week six of the season, just over 14 million people will have seen the NFL [in the UK]."

"We still have quite a lot of room for growth."

Wall Street has grown cautious on shares of media companies like CBS and 21st Century Fox on reports of soft ratings this year.

Just last week, Credit Suisse cut its rating on CBS, citing a 17 percent decline in ratings year over year.

But things seem to be faring better over in London, where Sky Sports has broadcasting rights and the league continues to enjoy highlights from the BBC.

Back in the UK, the Arizona Cardinals will play the Los Angeles Rams in Twickenham on Sunday, marking the third of four games to be played in the country this season.

After the conclusion of the 2017 season, 26 of the league's 32 teams will have played in London since the inception of the London Game Series in 2007.

"The level of popularity for the sport is growing increasingly higher. Our fanbase is much younger than for indigenous sports," noted Kirkwood. "Teenagers and students are coming on board and for the most part the whole idea of adopting a new sport fits in."

To be sure, the NFL's current venture into foreign games is still relatively new. Kirkwood underscored this point, saying that his team is still in the process of "demystifying" the sport through grassroots efforts.

"[Viewers] can't see the ball when they watch for the very first time. A lot of our content work is about trying to make that come to life," he explained. "A typical complaint from nonfans is that our sports is that we're too stop-start. How do you come up with content that keep people interested?"

But given the early successes in London, the league is even considering future ventures in other foreign markets. Kirkwood touched upon NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's previous comments that games in China could be a possibility, especially as the league nears its 100-year anniversary.

"We have offices in China and Canada and they would logically be the next territories for us."