By Barry Janoff
February 7, 2016: After an absence of more than ten years, the NFL is returning to Mexico.
"We are coming back to Mexico next season. We’re excited," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said during his State of the NFL media conference Friday (Feb. 5) in San Francisco as part of Super Bowl 50 activations.
"We’ll have a game on Nov. 21 between the (Oakland) Raiders and the (Houston) Texans," said Goodell. "We’re very excited about being back. As you know, we have a tremendous fan following down in Mexico. We believe it’ll be a tremendous success and we’re excited about being there."
The NFL said that the decision to return to Mexico was based upon several factors, including general fan interest, current NFL visibility through existing media agreements, the size and value of the overall sports and entertainment market there and the "potential to build year-round marketing, sponsorship and fan engagement."
The last time the NFL played a game in Mexico was Oct. 2, 2005 when the Arizona Cardinals defeated the San Francisco 49ers 31-14 in Mexico City before a crowd 103,467.
On Nov. 21, the Raiders will host the Texans in Estadio Azteca Stadium, to be televised by ESPN as the first Monday Night Football game outside the U.S.
ESPN televised the 2005 game in Mexico as part of what had been its Sunday Night Football package. It also will be show on Televisa and ESPN in Mexico.
“The NFL’s return to Mexico will be a signature game during the 2016 NFL season and ESPN’s Monday Night Football and our NFL studio shows will properly showcase this event both in the U.S. and in Mexico," ESPN president John Skipper said in a statement.
In addition to reaching the NFL's growing Hispanic fan base, Skipper said ESPN would use the game to help launch its production studios and daily NFL Live show in Mexico City.
For the NFL, the Mexico game is the next step in its plan to expand its international presence.
NFL owners last year approved a resolution to extend International Series regular-season games through 2025 and and to move beyond the U.K., where the NFL has played since 2007.
According to the league, the success of the International Series in the U.K. has "helped more than double the Sunday television viewership of NFL games there with the Super Bowl audience increasing more than 75% (and) has developed new and stronger business partnerships (with a) U.K. fan base of more than 13 million."
The three games scheduled for the 2016 season already are sold out, according to Goodell.
In 2016. the NFL's U.K. International Series, which has seen 14 games played in London since 2007, includes two games in Wembley Stadium and for the first time one in Twickenham Stadium.
Among the companies that are officially aligned with the NFL International Series and/or the NFL U.K. Web site are Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser), DraftKings, Five Guys, Hyundai, Pepsi Max, Visa, Microsoft, Marriott, Papa John's, Virgin Atlantic, Majestic, Bose and Ion Camera.
"As you know, we’re playing in two different stadiums this year, so that gives us a little bit more flexibility in how we do that, but I believe the future will see more games in the U.K.," said Goodell.
"Every time we give our U.K. fans, and I think this is true on a global basis, an opportunity to engage with football, the fans want more, and the key to our strategy several years ago was to give them the real thing, regular season games, and I think that’s worked. Fans have appreciated that."
According to Goodell, "Every year I go back to London, I see the fans are more sophisticated. They understand the game more. They’re following it more. We expect a big audience will be in the U.K. watching the Super Bowl."
Beginning in 2018, the NFL will also play a minimum of two games per season in a new stadium that will be home venue to the Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League, to be scheduled concurrently with games in the two other U.K. stadiums.
The Jacksonville Jaguars recently extended their deal to play a game per year in the U.K. through 2020.
Regarding putting a franchise in London, Goodell said the league was still in a wait-and-see mode.
"Let’s continue to grow. Let’s continue to see that excitement and enthusiasm, passion and support continue to develop. If it does, I think that’s a realistic possibility," said Goodell.
There also has been talk of holding the Super Bowl in London, but that discussion, too, has been channeled to a later date.
The Raiders, currently in a relocation limbo between remaining in Oakland and possibly moving back to Los Angeles, where the franchise played from 1982-1994, to join the Los Angeles Rams, see the Mexico game as an opportunity to build its fan base.
"Every year I go back to London, I see the fans are more sophisticated. They understand the game more. They’re following it more."
"The Raiders are honored to once again represent the National Football League in its International Series," Mark Davis, Raiders majority owner, said in a statement, referring to a game the Raiders played in London 2014 against the Miami Dolphins. "The Raiders are truly a global brand and we look forward to visiting the loyal and passionate members of the Raider Nation in Mexico City."
The 2016 schedule will see the Indianapolis Colts vs. Jaguars in Wembley Stadium (Sunday, Oct. 2), Los Angeles Rams vs. the New York Giants in Twickenham Stadium (Sunday, Oct. 23) and the Washington Redskins vs. Cincinnati Bengals in Wembley (Sunday, Oct. 30).
Of the previous 14 games played in the U.K., including three this past season, only one drew fewer than 80,000 fans (Chicago Bears-Tampa Bay Buccaneers Oct. 23, 2011). The three games this past season averaged more than 83,700.
The game between the Buffalo Bills and Jaguars this past Oct. 25 was the first global live stream of a regular season NFL game across devices.
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