By Simon Samano/@sjsamano
For FOX Deportes
The NFL is on a mission to make money, with one of the league’s primary methods being to transform American football into a global game by tapping into markets beyond U.S. borders.
So it should come as no surprise that, to Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the U.S. ambassador to Ireland, “it’d be terrific” for the NFL to someday host a game there.
“We came over before back in 1997 and played a preseason game,” Rooney said in a story posted on the BBC’s web site Wednesday. “But now, with the regular-season games in London at Wembley proving so successful, and tickets selling out almost as soon as they’re put on sale, I would think it would be good to play a game here, at Croke Park, as the interest in the sport is so strong.”
As Rooney alluded, it’s clear the league is pleased with its experiment in England. The Patriots and Rams will play Oct. 28 at London’s Wembley Stadium, making this the sixth-straight year a regular-season game has been played across the pond.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has expressed his desire to play two games abroad, and with league officials visiting Dublin’s Croke Park and finding the 82,500-seat venue “very attractive”, it would appear Ireland is gaining momentum.
All of this leads me to ask one question: What happened to Mexico?
In 2010, the Los Angeles Times’ Kevin Baxter wrote a story detailing the NFL’s popularity in Mexico and football’s history there, which dates back to 1896 and the first official game in Veracruz.
Mexico lays claim as the country with the highest concentration of NFL fans outside the U.S. and Canada, with an estimated 20 million strong who primarily root for the Cowboys, Steelers and Dolphins.
Four of the eight NFL games with the highest attendance have taken place in Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium, all of them drawing more than 100,000 fans. This includes “American Bowl” preseason games between the Cowboys and Oilers in 1994 (112,376, No. 1 overall); Cowboys and Patriots in 1998 (106,424); and Broncos vs. Dolphins in 1997 (104,629).
More recently, it was the 49ers and Cardinals who, in 2005, played the NFL’s first regular-season game outside the U.S. at Azteca Stadium before 103,467, kicking off what has become known as the NFL International Series.
So what gives?
The craving for the NFL in Mexico exists. Azteca Stadium is more than adequate enough to annually host a regular-season game. And there’s more money to be made, not to mention a clearly larger fan base to attract, in Mexico City than in Dublin.
All of this leads me to believe the NFL would be wise to make Mexico a priority again.