It’s no secret that Mexicans are crazy about fútbol, aka, soccer. But there’s also growing interest in the kind of football played north of the border, where local teams have loyal supporters, and fans who make pilgrimages to Dallas and San Diego for NFL
Anyone stupid enough to make an unexpected move toward President Felipe Calderón can expect to experience something most of us have only seen on television: a crushing, bone-rattling, American football-style body blow.
This isn't a metaphor. The Mexican president's security team really does know how to tackle. Why? Because the security guards – as strange as it may sound in soccer-crazy Mexico – have formed their own American football team: the "Sentinels," which play in the country's National Student Organization Of American Football (ONEFA).
Football, as in the American "pigskin" variety, is actually pretty big south of the border. Top ONEFA teams like the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), arch-rival Politécnico Nacional and the upstart Monterrey Technological Institute all have large local followings. So too do the professional National Football League (NFL) teams from "up north." Favorite clubs include the Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons, San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers. During football season, thousands of Mexican fans trek across the border just to attend Chargers and Cowboys games. There are even a handful of Mexicans who play in the NFL.
It's no wonder, then, that in 2005, the NFL chose Mexico City for the first regular season match ever to be played outside of the United States. The game, between the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers, drew 103,467 spectators – an all-time record, US stadiums included, that still stands.
"In terms of the volume of business, the strongest market for the NFL is still the domestic one. But in order to grow, the league needs to expand its fan base," says Arturo Olivé, the NFL's general director of operations in Mexico.
That means doing everything possible to encourage Mexico's already growing interest in the sport. Olivé"s goal over the next three years is also to attract more local sponsors. But even though the NFL has operated an office in Mexico City since 1998, the sport isn't likely – at least in the foreseeable future – to supplant the other kind of "futbol" as the country's favorite pastime.
The NFL must compete too with another favorite sport involving brawny men in shiny outfits: Mexican "lucha libre" wrestling.
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