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Why the NFL plays a Mexico City game

Estadio Azteca has now hosted four regular season NFL games.

NFL: International Series- Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday night, the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Los Angeles Chargers 24-17. The game wasn’t played at either team’s home stadium, but at Estadio Azteca, located in Mexico City. Although NFL fans may not realize it, the league has been playing games in Mexico since the 1970s.

The Week 11 matchup was the 10th time an NFL game has been played in Mexico City. It was also the fourth time Estadio Azteca hosted an NFL regular season game.

Why are these games played in Mexico City?

Exposure is the driving force behind playing NFL games outside the U.S. The NFL has been playing in London since 2007, and the league has held both regular season and preseason games in Canada in that time. It has also discussed scheduling matchups in China and Germany in the future.

In 2019, the NFL International Series included five games: four in London and the Chargers-Chiefs one in Mexico City.

The goal of these international contests is for the NFL to expand its brand, build its fanbase in other countries, and also, of course, make money.

In January 2019, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said, “I believe that we’re going to continue to grow the game of football in Mexico.”

The previous games in Mexico City have all attracted large crowds. One fanbase in particular is popular in parts of Mexico: The Chargers, who relocated from San Diego to Los Angeles in 2017. Via ESPN:

According to numbers provided by the league, the Chargers have the largest NFL following of any team in the Mexican state of Baja California and the largest Hispanic fan base of any NFL team (41.1 percent).

Which teams have played in Mexico City?

Before the Chargers-Chiefs game in 2019, the last time Mexico City had hosted a game was in 2017, when the Patriots beat the Raiders 33-8. In 2016, the Raiders beat the Texans 27-20. The biggest storyline that emerged from that game was the use of a laser pointer aimed primarily at Texans players, including former Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler.

In 2005, the Cardinals beat the 49ers 31-14 in Estadio Azteca, which was the first regular season game played outside of the U.S. Before that, there were five preseason games played in the stadium between 1994-2001, and another in Estadio de la Ciudad de los Deportes in 1978.

In August 1968, an exhibition matchup between the Lions and Eagles was set to be played in Estadio Azteca, but it was cancelled. Estadio Azteca opened in 1966, and it is used primarily for soccer, but it’s hosted boxing matches and other events, too.

Here’s a list of the games played in Mexico City:

  • Aug. 5, 1978: Saints 14, Eagles 7*
  • Aug. 15, 1994: Oilers 6, Cowboys 0*
  • Aug. 4, 1997: Dolphins 38, Broncos 19*
  • Aug. 17, 1998: Patriots 21, Cowboys 3*
  • Aug. 19, 2000: Colts 24, Steelers 23*
  • Aug. 27, 2001: Cowboys 21, Raiders 6*
  • Oct. 2, 2005: Cardinals 31, 49ers 14
  • Nov. 21, 2016: Raiders 27, Texans 20
  • Nov. 19, 2017: Patriots 33, Raiders 8
  • Nov. 18, 2019: Chiefs 24, Chargers 17


Wait, why wasn’t there a game in 2018?

That was the plan! In 2018, the Chiefs were supposed to face the Rams in Mexico City, but it was relocated back to Los Angeles due to concerns about the field conditions.

A week before the game was scheduled to be played, images of the field’s surface began circulating on social media. The damage to the turf was from a concert the venue hosted on Nov. 7.

Despite the stadium laying new sod down the Tuesday before the Monday night game, the league decided to move the game to LA.

Needless to say, the league was hesitant to bring a game back to the stadium a year later. To ensure that a late relocation didn’t happen again, the NFL set some ground rules in the weeks leading up to the game. Via the Kansas City Star:

1) They would hire a field consultant to take monthly visits to Mexico City to check on the field. He or she would collaborate with stadium management and return with pictures, detailed reports and recommendations.

2) Volume. Televisa would scale back the events it hosted leading up to Monday’s game, reserving the stadium only for regularly-scheduled soccer matches as the football game drew near.

3) A backup plan. Together, the organizations would plant a sod farm nearby. If needed, the farm would be used to replace patches of the field or the entire 120-yard playing surface.

However, there were still noticeable problems with the playing turf when the Chiefs and Chargers faced off.

How different is it playing in Mexico than in the U.S.?

There will be something players from both teams have to battle: Mexico City’s altitude. Unlike traditional NFL stadiums, the game will be played with additional 2,100 feet in elevation — Estadio Azteca has an altitude of 7,380 feet.

During the 2016 game between the Texans and Raiders, some players had to use oxygen masks on the sidelines. Before the 2019 game against the Chiefs, the Chargers spent the week before training in the high altitude of Colorado.

There is a benefit, however: the altitude makes it easier for kickers to hit from long distance. In 2017, Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 62-yard field goal for the Patriots in Mexico City.

What’s next for the NFL in Mexico City?

There could be another game scheduled in Mexico City for next year, though it might depend on if the NFL can figure out a better solution to the field conditions.

The NFL has already lined up at least three teams to host international games in 2020. The Jacksonville Jaguars have an annual agreement to play in London through 2020, while the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins are also committed to playing in either the UK or Mexico next season. Dates, matchups, and locations have yet to be finalized.