MEXICO CITY (AP) — The NFL's decision to move the regular-season game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Rams due to the poor condition of the turf at Azteca Stadium has left many Mexicans disappointed, angered and wondering how it will affect the relationship with the league for the future.
After consulting with the players association and local officials, the NFL determined the conditions of the historic venue did not meet the standards for playability and moved the game back to the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Rams (9-1) and the Chiefs (9-1) will face off Monday night in a much-anticipated game between the top two teams in each conference.
Based solely on the teams' records, the game was going to be the best matchup ever played outside the United States.
But Mexico blew it.
"Colossal shame" was the headline of the sports newspaper Record. "The league takes away the best game of the season due to the lousy state of the field that Estadio Azteca was not able to fix. The NFL has left, and its return is in jeopardy."
Azteca officials changed the playing surface from natural grass to a hybrid in May, but the turf hasn't been ideal for several months due to its intense use. Since July 21, America and Cruz Azul, the two Liga MX teams that share the stadium, have played 23 games between them in the stadium, and the women's professional team from America has played another seven games there.
The stadium also hosted two concerts by Colombian singer Shakira on Oct. 11 and 12, and another one from music channel Telehit on Nov. 7 that left the field in its worst condition in years.
"I feel devastated, angered and ashamed, all of that together," said former NFL kicker Raul Allegre, who is Mexican and works as an analyst for ESPN Deportes. "I'm still trying to figure out how small minds were so irresponsible in the preparations for a game of this magnitude. I know that the world does not revolve around the NFL, but this is a great event not only for the sport but for the country, and it is inconceivable how it was taken so lightly."
According to an NFL study released last year, the game between the Oakland Raiders and the Houston Texans played in 2016 generated a $45 million impact on the local economy. The Mexican government said that last year*s game between the Raiders and the New England Patriots topped that number.
"Our fans in Mexico are among the most passionate, dedicated NFL fans anywhere in the world," said Mark Waller, the league's executive vice president of International who will be in Mexico City on Thursday to discuss next year and what needs to occur at Azteca to keep the NFL interested in playing there. "We will continue to look for ways to bring them closer to the NFL in the days and weeks ahead. We share the disappointment of not being able to play this game as planned in Mexico City."
The game is usually scheduled on the third weekend of November, when Mexicans celebrate the Revolution*s anniversary, and the authorities organize additional activities in order to entice fans to spend the whole weekend in the capital. For this year's game, the fanfest that drew more than 300,000 fans in Chapultepec Park was moved to the Zocalo, the country's main square located in downtown Mexico City, in an attempt to draw even more fans. The NFL office in Mexico and the Sports Institute of Mexico City also scheduled a 5k and 10k race for Sunday.
Local authorities have not said whether both events will continue.
"We have to learn from this experience so it won't happen again in the future", said Horacio De la Vega, director of the sports institute in Mexico City. "Everyone needs to assume their own responsibility in this. I think that the crew that takes care of the field in Azteca should have put more attention in such a big issue as the playing field is, and that did not happen."
Many fans are also angered because they already paid airfares and hotel fees that are probably lost.
"I'm very upset because I already purchased my plane tickets and they canceled the game at the last minute. They promised to reimburse my money for the game ticket, but what about the other expenses, who is going to be held accountable for that?" said Victor Reynoso, a Rams fan who was planning to come to the capital from the northern city of Monterrey.
Reynoso is probably not alone, according to Mexico's Tourism Secretary; around 30,000 fans come to the city for the weekend of the game.
The federal government, through the Tourism Secretary, pays the NFL $14.5 million for each game. Last year, the NFL and Televisa, which owns Estadio Azteca, announced that they signed an extension to bring back games until the 2021 season.
But it's uncertain what is going to happen after Televisa failed to present a field up to the standards for an NFL game. Several NFL owners are wary of further games at Azteca because of this situation, and the league is still keen on playing games in Mexico, but might be ready to consider other venues there. Monterrey and Guadalajara have stadiums capable of hosting NFL games, and both cities will be hosting games in the 2026 World Cup, though the NFL has believed Azteca is the best option.
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner contributed.
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