The NFL has made a concerted effort in recent years to expand its international presence, particularly in Europe by playing games in England and Germany. But the league has also garnered a passionate following of football fans in the South as the league has garnered a lot of attention in Mexico. How did the league come to host games in Mexico and what are the upcoming plans for matchups in America’s southern neighbor?
The Origin of NFL Games in Mexico
Although the NFL’s international endeavors are now most extensive in Europe, the league’s first international regular-season game actually took place in Mexico. In 2005, the Arizona Cardinals played the San Francisco 49ers in Mexico City in a game called NFL Fútbol Americano.
With more than 103,000 spectators in the Estadio Azteca, the duel was the match with the most visitors in the league up to that point.
Two years later, the NFL officially launched its International Series, a full-scale effort to expand the game’s reach by holding competitions in some of the world’s most iconic sports venues. The initiative began with a matchup between the Miami Dolphins and the New York Giants on October 28, 2007 at Wembley Stadium in London, England.
Over the next decade, the NFL expanded its reach in London while keeping an eye on other countries as well. That bore fruit in 2016 when the NFL played its first “International Series” game in Mexico when the Oakland Raiders “hosted” the Houston Texans on November 21 in front of over 70,000 fans.
As the NFL expanded into Mexico, the league renamed its International Series games to name them after the country in which they were played. Games in London were called “NFL London Games” and games in Mexico City were called “NFL Mexico Games”.
The league planned one more game per season in Mexico for the next three years. In 2017, the Raiders “hosted” the New England Patriots, and in 2019, the Los Angeles Chargers faced division rivals the Kansas City Chiefs.
The league’s scheduled 2018 matchup between the Chiefs and the Los Angeles Rams was moved back to LA due to poor field conditions at the Estadio Azteca. It turned out to be one of the most entertaining games in recent memory as the Rams defeated the Chiefs by an incredible 54-51.
The NFL planned to resume regular-season showdowns in Mexico for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, but those plans were scrapped due to COVID-19.
Which NFL teams will play in Mexico in 2022?
The International Series returns to Mexico City for week 11 of the 2022 season; The Arizona Cardinals take on the San Francisco 49ers at the Estadio Azteca. The Cardinals, sitting at 4-6 and third in the NFC West, are playing to keep the team’s season alive as a loss would severely dent any remaining playoff ambitions.
The 49ers, currently the seventh team in the NFC and with back-to-back wins against the league’s LA teams, will arrive in Mexico City looking to embark on a full-blown winning streak later in the season. This is Arizona’s first appearance in Mexico since the NFL’s first-ever international regular-season game in 2005.
Will the NFL move or form any teams in Mexico?
At this time, it doesn’t look like the league has any concrete plans to move teams or create new teams internationally. The idea of the league creating a European division has been floating through the airwaves for a long time, but heaps of logistical challenges likely make that more of a dream than a reality, at least for now.