Mexico has the largest NFL fan base outside of the United States. In fact, American football has become Mexico’s second most popular sport behind, of course, soccer. Today, there are more than 20 million Mexican fans who are devoted to the NFL, and the game’s growing popularity in Mexico shows no signs of slowing down.
In 2017, statistician Nate Silver estimated that the number of NFL fans in Mexico City was approximately 1.5 million, more than the combined fan base in Detroit and Las Vegas and more than three times the fan base in London where the NFL plays several international games each season.
Each week, on average, those 1.5 million fans watch the nine live televised games that air on FOX, ESPN, TV Azteca, and Televisa. Movie theaters throughout the country also show the Monday and Thursday night games to the country’s football hungry fans on their giant screens.
It started with the preseason
How did Mexico’s love affair with American football get started? Believe it or not, American football has been played in Mexico for a century, but it didn’t really catch on until the late 1960s – early 1970s when TV stations in the country started broadcasting NFL football in Mexico, primarily the Dallas Cowboys or “Vaqueros de Dallas.”
The history of NFL football in Mexico dates back to 1978 when the NFL played a game in Mexico for the first time with a preseason match in the Estadio de la Ciudad de los Deportes (renamed Estadio Azul). It was the first NFL game to be played outside the U.S. and featured the Philadelphia Eagles vs. the New Orleans Saints.
During the 1990s Mexico played host to three preseason NFL games before the NFL opened its NFL Mexico office in 1998. Since then, the popularity of American football has grown exponentially due, in part to the league’s efforts to attract young fans to the game.
In 2000, the NFL’s youth league, Tochito, was created, and today more than 70,000 young players play flag football in the league. And, more than 2.9 million kids play the game at least a few times each year in their gym classes at school.
And now it’s in primetime
Earlier this year, commissioner Roger Goodell announced that NFL football in Mexico will return this season after ongoing issues with the COVID pandemic kept the NFL out of the country for the 2019-2020 seasons.
The League announced that five games this year will be played in three countries – Mexico, the UK, and Germany. One of those games is scheduled to be played in Mexico during week 11 of the 2022 season. It will be a Monday night game between the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers, a repeat of the 2005 game played in Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca, the first regular-season game to be played outside of the U.S.
Thinking about taking a trip to Mexico to see the game? Check out our blog to learn about the safest cities in Mexico before your trip.