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NFL's Return to Mexico Leaves Fans Wanting More

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November 28, 2016

The NFL says that Monday night's game and the huge marketing spend surrounding it, represents a more serious push into the Mexican market for the league, which is trying hard to expand its global fan base.

Mexico City - Last Monday night, more than 76,000 fans - decked out in football jerseys, face paint and sombreros - poured into Mexico's most famous sports venue, the Estadio Azteca, to watch quarterback Derek Carr lead the Oakland Raiders to a dramatic 27-20 home victory over the Houston Texans.

For many Mexican fans, the game was bittersweet. It had been more than a decade since the National Football League held a regular-season game in Mexico. In the intervening years, the NFL has all but ignored Mexico, opting instead to play 17 games in London.

"We don't like that, because we are the most passionate fans," said Rey Lopez, a 44-year-old schoolteacher from the central-Mexican city of Querétaro who showed up in a vintage Howie Long Raiders jersey, a black bandanna and with his face painted in menacing Raiders silver and black.

The NFL says that Monday night's game - which went off largely without a hitch - and the huge marketing spend surrounding it, represents a big shift in strategy: a more serious push into the Mexican market for the league, which is trying hard to expand its global fan base.

This year, the league renewed broadcast deals with four major broadcasters—Televisa, Azteca, Fox and ESPN–and pay-TV satellite provider Sky. Today, Mexican viewers with a basic cable package have their choice of watching nine different NFL games each week, compared with six for U.S. basic cable-package subscribers. The league has also recently struck in-country sponsorship deals with brands including Mexican bank Grupo Financiero Banorte SAB, Visa credit cards, Pepsi and Gatorade.

The NFL is likely to announce at least one, and maybe multiple regular-season matches in Mexico in each of the next few years, with the aim of landing a franchise in Mexico within a decade, said Mark Waller, a former executive with Scottish spirits-maker Diageo PLC, who has led the NFL's international efforts for the last decade. "We have a long-term commitment from ownership to international play," he said.

While soccer is still the most popular sport in Mexico, "futbol Americano" has been widely popular here since the late 1970s, when the NFL started broadcasting games on Mexican TV. Older fans tend to favor the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers, who fielded championship teams in that era, while the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins, who had golden eras in the late 1980s and early 1990s are popular with the younger generation.

The NFL estimates that today there are 4.2 million self-declared "avid" adult football fans in Mexico, compared with 2.9 million in 2010, and 12.7 million "casual" adult fans, up from 10 million in 2010.

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