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Expansion to Mexico Unlikely

October 02, 2005|From Associated Press

MEXICO CITY — Don't expect the NFL to stick around Mexico very long after tonight's game between the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers, the first regular-season game played outside the United States.

NFL Mexico, which oversees the sport in this country, says it has no plans to push for a team anytime soon. It appears content to follow the lead of the NBA and Major League Baseball, which played games that counted in Mexico in years past, but haven't seriously considered sanctioning Mexican franchises.

"A franchise in Mexico, it's not a priority for the short or medium term," said Geraldine Gonzalez of the league's Mexico City office. "It's not so viable."

NFL surveys say 20 million Mexicans, a little less than one in five, are fans of the league.

Still, Gonzalez said the fact that few play football has prohibited a sports culture from forming around homegrown talent. Factor in concerns about security, logistical difficulties and whether fans can afford ticket prices, and an NFL team here starts to look about as likely as Giants Stadium hosting Mexican cockfights.

"There are a number of communities in the United States that have raised their hands and said, 'We are ready for a franchise,' including Los Angeles," Gonzalez said. "The league will first look out for its interests within the United States."

The NFL is not alone. The northern city of Monterrey hosted baseball in 1999 and a three-game series in 1996, but a bid to bring the Montreal Expos there part-time, instead of playing in Puerto Rico, fizzled in 2003.

NBA commissioner David Stern has mentioned Mexico City as a possible site for an expansion franchise, and the Houston Rockets beat the Dallas Mavericks 108-106 here on Dec. 6, 1997. But the league has not been back for a regular-season contest.

Paul Swangard, managing director of the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Management Center, said Mexico's inability to provide would-be franchises modern stadiums with luxury boxes and other lucrative perks have helped scare away U.S. leagues.

"The leagues, especially the NFL, don't want to discount their product for a particular market," Swangard said.

Tickets for Sunday's game at Azteca Stadium, which hosted World Cup finals in 1970 and 1986, cost between $23 and $80. That's cheaper than seats at most U.S. stadiums, but prohibitively expensive for millions in a country where the minimum wage is $4 a day.

Wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers cap while waiting for a bus in southern Mexico City, construction worker Jorge Chavez said he was proud an NFL game was being played here -- but that he couldn't afford to go.

"Feeding the children comes first," he said. "I can watch it on television."

Instead of expansion plans, if things go well Sunday, the NFL has promised to consider holding regular-season contests in other international locations. Strong television ratings across Mexico and a crowd of 100,000-plus in the stands would go a long way toward making the game a success.

Fans have not snapped up tickets as quickly as anticipated, but officials point out that Mexican buyers are notorious for waiting until the last minute.

Buying seats at an Azteca ticket window, 48-year-old Jamie Solis said: "Mexico's so close, there should be an NFL team. There are good football fans here. They want a full stadium. We will fill it."

But a complete sellout won't be possible because officials are not offering tickets for the first seven rows around Azteca's massive bowl, citing atrocious viewing angles at field level.

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