NFL-Goodell glad for global growth but cagey on next steps

By Simon Evans

NEW ORLEANS, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Sell-outs of the two NFL contests in London next season are proof of the game's growing global popularity, Commissioner Roger Goodell said on Friday but he carefully avoided talk of a British franchise for the league.

The National Football League games at Wembley Stadium will match the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Minnesota Vikings on September 29 and the San Francisco 49ers against the Jacksonville Jaguars on October 27.

"This is a sign that the game is growing globally," Goodell said in his annual, pre-Super Bowl news conference.

"I think the message is very clear - there are passionate fans that love the NFL in the UK," he added.

But asked what this meant in terms of a possible, future franchise in the British capital, Goodell was careful with his words.

"We are always asking what is the next step after two games? Do we move to three, do we try something else? How do we continue to celebrate the growth of the game in the UK?

"But I think from the positive reaction from the fans that our ownership understands that this is a market in which we need to be more active," he said.

Goodell was less forthcoming about the chance of a return to Mexico, where the NFL held its first regular season game outside of the United States in 2005.

The game was played in front of a then record crowd of 103,000 in the Azteca stadium in Mexico City but there has been no return to the country since.

"It was a great event and you could see the passion of the fans and we would like to be back there," Goodell said. "Our focus in the last couple of years has obviously been on trying to prove the model works in the UK."

The NFL commissioner hinted that the league had not yet found the right deals to make it worthwhile playing a regular season game south of the border.

"We have to make sure that when we do go back to Mexico, and I expect that we will, that we do it successfully, do it with the right kind of television support, fan support, sponsor involvement and the stadium would be the kind of stage we would want for that game," he said.

Goodell said any return to Mexico, would be dependent on continuing success in the UK first.

"I would expect that if we are successful in the UK where we are thankfully continuing to grow, that we would have the opportunity to go back there (Mexico) and the sooner the better for me," he said.

Canada also has hosted NFL games with the Buffalo Bills having played one regular season game a year in Toronto since 2008.

(Editing by Gene Cherry)