The NFL has made a concerted effort in recent years to expand its international footprint, most notably in Europe, with games played in England and Germany. But the league has also found a passionate fanbase of football fans to the south, as the league has drawn plenty of fanfare in Mexico. How did the league come to play games in Mexico, and what are the upcoming plans for matchups in America’s southern neighbor?
The Origin of NFL Games in Mexico
Though the NFL’s international efforts are now most expansive across the pond in Europe, the league’s first international regular season game was actually held in Mexico. In 2005, the Arizona Cardinals played the San Francisco 49ers in a game dubbed “NFL Fútbol Americano” in Mexico City.
The matchup drew the league’s highest attendance at a game up to that point, with a crowd of over 103,000 fans showing up to Estadio Azteca.
Two years later, the NFL officially launched its International Series, a full-scale effort to expand the reach of the game by holding contests in some of the world’s hallmark sporting venues. The initiative began with a matchup between the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants at Wembley Stadium in London, England, on Oct. 28, 2007.
Over the ensuing decade, the NFL expanded its reach in London, but it was keeping its eye on other countries as well. That bore fruit in 2016, when the NFL played its first “International Series” game in Mexico, as the Oakland Raiders “hosted” the Houston Texans on Nov. 21 in front of over 70,000 fans.
As the NFL expanded into Mexico, the league rebranded its International Series games to be labeled after the country they were played in. Games in London were dubbed “NFL London Games,” and games in Mexico City would be called “NFL Mexico Games.”
The league planned one more game per season in Mexico over the next three years. In 2017, the Raiders “hosted” the New England Patriots, and in 2019, the Los Angeles Chargers faced off with the division-rival Kansas City Chiefs.
The league’s planned 2018 matchup between the Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams was re-located back to LA due to poor field conditions at Estadio Azteca. It turned out to be one of the most entertaining games in recent memory, as the Rams bested the Chiefs by an incredible score of 54 to 51.
The NFL planned to continue with regular-season showdowns in Mexico for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, but those plans were scrapped due to COVID-19.
What NFL Teams Will Play in Mexico in 2022?
The International Series returns to Mexico City in Week 11 of the 2022 season; the Arizona Cardinals will face the San Francisco 49ers at Estadio Azteca. The Cardinals, sitting at 4-6 and in third place in the NFC West, are playing to keep the team’s season alive, as a loss would put a significant dent into any remaining playoff aspirations.
The 49ers, currently the NFC’s seventh seed and coming off of two straight wins against the league’s L.A. teams, will arrive in Mexico City looking to kick-start a full-blown win streak over the stretch run of the season. This will be Arizona’s first appearance in Mexico since the NFL’s very first international regular-season game back in 2005.
Will the NFL Move or Start Any Teams in Mexico?
As of now, it doesn’t appear as though the league has any concrete plans to move teams or start new ones internationally. The idea of the league starting a European division has long swirled around the ether, but logistical challenges aplenty likely make that more of a dream than a reality, at least for now.