NFL in Mexico: A History of American Football in the Country

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The NFL has a lot of fans in Mexico

Mexico may share a border with the US but there is remarkably little Mexican involvement in America’s most popular sports league. The National Football League (NFL) is the biggest major sports league in the US and is watched by millions every week. But less than 1% of players identify as Latino.

There are some very good reasons for that, of course. With such a strong soccer culture here, the American sport has never been able to take off in quite the same way. But that is not to say that the game does not have its legions of committed fans here in Mexico.

With Super Bowl odds updating after every week of action, Mexican fans continue to cheer on their adopted teams. But there will be no live games in Mexico this season. That won’t dampen the fans’ enthusiasm for the game though, so we thought we would take a quick look back at the history of American football – and the NFL – in Mexico.

First Regular Season Game

It is not surprising that there is such interest in American football in Mexico, thanks to the proximity of some of the teams, the coverage the sport receives, and the family ties between the two nations. Mexicans have been following the sport intently since the 1970s and there was even a plan for Mexico City to host an exhibition game in 1968 but it was called off at late notice, possibly due to civil unrest in the country at the time.

It took a while for the NFL to reconsider bringing American football back to the country but in 1994 the Estadio Azteca saw the Houston Oilers defeat the Dallas Cowboys 6-0. That doesn’t sound like the most thrilling game but the league returned every few years after that to build a fan base and in 2005 the very same stadium hosted the first-ever regular season NFL game. This time the crowd was entertained a little bit more by the action as the Arizona Cardinals beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-14.

Mexico City Welcomes American Football

With the NFL looking to expand the game across the world, offshoot leagues were formed but never really lasted that long. While London and Toronto enjoyed annual regular season games during the 2000s, a return to Mexico City never materialized. The NFL stated that it had never planned for there to be a series of regular season games at the Estadio Azteca – and that the first event in 2005 had been down to the Arizona Cardinals needing a place to play while their own stadium was being refurbished.

But 11 years after it last hosted a regular season game, the Oakland Raiders and the Houston Texans returned NFL football to Mexico City, sparking a new wave of interest that had been growing thanks to increased coverage and online access. The Raiders won that game and came back a year later, this time going down to the all-conquering New England Patriots.

It seemed as though Mexico City would become a regular destination on the NFL calendar. But then the 2018 game was moved – again at short notice – to Los Angeles. Poor field conditions at the Estadio Azteca were given as the excuse but there was a game held the very next year before the COVID pandemic forced any plans to take the game outside of the US border to be shelved.

The NFL returned once again in 2022, as the Arizona Cardinals took on the San Francisco 49ers in a repeat of that first-ever regular season game outside the US. The 49ers managed to get their Mexican revenge 17 years on, beating the Cardinals 38-10.

The Estadio Azteca has become the home of the NFL in Mexico

No Games in 2023

Just when it looked like Mexican NFL fans would start to be able to enjoy live games on an annual basis again, it was announced that the Estadio Azteca would be undergoing renovations so there would be no games in 2023. The work is being carried out to ensure that the stadium is ready for the FIFA World Cup in 2026.

Regular season games that may have taken place in Mexico were moved to Germany and local fans had to make do with watching the action on TV or online. There is hope that Mexico City’s prestigious stadium will be ready to welcome back the NFL in 2024 though.

The Future of the NFL – and American Football – in Mexico

Although the NFL has seemed to look more towards Europe in the past in terms of spreading American football around the globe, there is a dedicated – and growing – set of fans in Mexico. If regular-season games do return to the Estadio Azteca next year that will hopefully herald a new period of annual action in Mexico.

What is more unclear is whether there will be more Mexican involvement on the playing side of the game. But the growth in popularity of flag football is a sign that more youngsters are getting into the game and that can help produce the fans, and maybe the players, of tomorrow.

It still seems incredible that only 1% of the NFL identify as Latino. But with regular season games returning and the possibility of a bona fide star of the league claiming Mexican heritage, the future is beginning to look a little bit brighter for the country’s relationship with the NFL.

Mexico Daily Post