The National Football League's quest to expand its global reach could result in a pair of teams playing in China next year.
According to The Athletic's Matt Barrows, NFL owners are expected to discuss the possibility of playing a regular-season game in China in 2020, with Beijing and Shanghai both being considered options as the host city.
The San Francisco 49ers would tentatively be the designated home team, with the Los Angeles Rams a possibility as the away team after having previously shown interest in the concept.
49ers general manager John Lynch said Monday, per Barrows:
"As a football guy, you're usually pretty protective. Like, 'Hey, let's make sure this is good for our team.' I think one thing we feel comfortable with is that (CEO) Jed (York) and (team president) Al (Guido) always keep that in mind, so we’re not going to do anything that's going to put us at a disadvantage. But if we can grow the game and also have a cool experience we'll make it work."
San Francisco would lose a home game at Levi's Stadium under the circumstances. The Rams are unlikely to serve as the host team, given their new L.A. venue is expected to open in 2020.
Playing abroad would be nothing new to the NFL. The league has previously held games in London, Mexico and Canada. Teams that play in London typically receive a bye week directly after in order to help recover given the lengthy trip across the Atlantic Ocean.
Bigger obstacles would be present for a potential game in China.
Barrows notes that the current plan would be for the China game to kick off the 2020 regular season. The contest could possibly be held prior to the first Sunday of Week 1, which would give the teams extra time to prepare for Week 2 as it crosses the Pacific Ocean. The time difference between China and the Pacific time zone in August and September is 15 hours.
The NFL is also concerned about air quality issues in China. According to the Telegraph, the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing had the most pollution in Olympic history. The Chinese government has since attempted to reduce the air pollution.
Indoor practice bubbles for both teams may provide a solution to some of the concerns.
The subject of a game in China is expected to be held at the NFL's annual meetings Tuesday, although an official decision may not be made for "several months," per Barrows.