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NFL officials say they have reached a crossroads in their international business, and are embarking on a major shift in strategy. After nearly two decades of losing millions of dollars trying to export American football, the league thinks it has identified its main problem: non-Americans still don't get the game.
"We've struggled for a long time to work out how you get people engaged in our game when they don't play it and don't understand it," said Mark Waller, the NFL's senior vice president for sales, marketing and international affairs.
Part online seminar, part situation comedy, part highlight film, Coach Stilo is the NFL's latest attempt to teach the basics of a game as foreign and complex to those outside the U.S. as cricket is to Americans. If non-Americans don't get football, it's unlikely they will buy a Tony Romo jersey, or even sign up for the broadcast or Internet packages of live games the NFL is trying to peddle abroad. The league doesn't release its international sales figures, but with a nearly saturated U.S. market, the foreign market is undoubtedly its main opportunity for growth.
The fictional Coach Stilo, who will make his debut on the Web later this month, is a tough-talking character with a New York accent. He leads a three-hour, eight-chapter tutorial on football that includes a talking dog, a preteen offensive coordinator and highlights narrated by NFL stars, including Trent Edwards of the Buffalo Bills and Shaun O'Hara of the New York Giants. The presentation is available in five languages -- English, Spanish, French, Japanese and Mandarin.