As NFL interest continues to grow in Europe, the Chicago Bears are one of two teams putting down roots in Spain.
The Bears just completed a trip there with former offensive lineman Roberto Garza as the perfect ambassador for the organization as a bilingual speaker. Garza, who started 145 games for the Bears over 10 seasons — the fourth-most for a lineman in club history, conducted two Mini Monsters youth clinics for five consecutive days, visiting Madrid and Barcelona.
“The kids loved it,” Garza told the Tribune. “You could tell they had never held a football before. By the end of the camp, they had picked up a couple drills. The message was getting 60 minutes a day of exercise, promoting healthy living, flag football and the Bears. It was a lot of fun. The kids has a blast. To me, it was a huge success.”
There is a small football presence in Spain with youth programs, flag football leagues, a semipro league and the Barcelona Dragons, who compete in the 17-team European Football League.
In January 2022, the Bears and Dolphins were granted access to Spain as part of the NFL’s International Home Market Area program. It gave them rights to “marketing, fan engagement and commercialization as part of a long-term, strategic effort to enable clubs to build their global brands while driving NFL fan growth internationally.” Nineteen teams have access to 30 IMHAs across 10 nations — Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Ghana, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom.
The Bears and Dolphins hosted a joint fan event and watch party for the Nov. 6 game at Soldier Field, a 35-32 victory for the Dolphins despite three touchdown passes by Justin Fields, who also rushed for 178 yards. Shaun Gayle, a Super Bowl XX member and Pro Bowl safety, joined former Dolphins wide receiver Nat Moore at the event.
On their Spain trip, the Bears went into the community, laying the groundwork for what could be a potential return.
“There were a couple kids that came in with Bears gear,” Garza said. “There is a fan base there. They are growing the sport.
“I would imagine now after that camp and having all those kids wear the Mini Monsters shirt, there is going to be a big presence. There are programs out there playing football, so it was great to partner with them and introduce the game to kids that are not playing the sport and the Bears brand.”
Last summer, the Bears ran a similar program of youth clinics in the United Kingdom with former wide receiver Johnny Knox and tight end Kaseem Sinceno. But with the IHMA program, the franchise could lean into more opportunities in Spain.
The NFL played five international games in 2022 — three in England, one in Munich, Germany, and one in Mexico City. The league has committed to play at least three more games in Germany through 2025. In 2023, the Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans will play home games in England, with the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots the home teams for games in Germany.
Spain is “very much on our radar” for a future game, Brett Gosper, the NFL’s head of Europe and the UK, told The Associated Press in November. The NFL’s goal, of course, is to drive television ratings for the sport globally.
When the NFL expanded the regular season to 17 games in 2021, it outlined a plan for each team to play one home game internationally every eight years. The Bears have played two regular-season games in London and one in Toronto, each time as the visitor. The Bears have played preseason games in Dublin, Ireland; Berlin; Gothenburg, Sweden; and London. In 1961, they played an exhibition at the Montreal Alouettes.
“We hope that there is going to be a game (in Spain) at some point,” said Gustavo Silva, the Bears manager of youth football and community programs, who accompanied Garza on the trip. “We would love to have a game there. It would be well received.”
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