Thursday’s NBA slate features only a pair of games on the schedule, but it marks an important night for the league as it returns to Mexico to feature a game for the 32nd time—more than any other country outside of the U.S. and Canada. This will be the 13th regular season game; the others were preseason matchups. The Orlando Magic will “host” the Atlanta Hawks at the Arena CDMX in Mexico City with tip-off set for 9:30 and the game broadcast on NBA TV.
“We are building a basketball framework nationwide to get people playing basketball, and that will be translated into a larger fan base,” Raul Zarraga, head of NBA Mexico, said in a Zoom interview.
More from Sportico.com
The first game in Mexico was in 1992, and 17 years later, Zarraga opened the league’s office in the country as employee No. 1. There are now 21 people in the NBA offices in Mexico City.
This is the third of four matchups in this season’s NBA Global Games. The Minnesota Timberwolves and Dallas Mavericks played a pair of preseason games in Abu Dhabi, which produced revenue-generating opportunities for Minnesota. In January, the Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers will play in Paris.
There are 32 million NBA fans in Mexico, and basketball is the second most-played sport among Mexicans. Fans snapped up tickets to Thursday’s game, which quickly sold out, according to Zarraga. The NBA locked up a dozen partners for the event, including Michelob Ultra, AT&T, Nike, Gatorade, Tissot and Betcris.
In 2021, the NBA G League added the Mexico City Capitanes as its first franchise outside of the U.S. and Canada. The team, which plays its games at Arena CDMX, opens its season on Friday at home and will feature recently signed Mexican American Juan Toscano-Anderson, who won an NBA title with the Golden State Warriors in 2022.
The NBA 2K League also launched an esports team in Mexico in 2021.
NBA viewership on ESPN rose 25% in Mexico during the 2022-23 season, and the country ranks 9th among international markets in NBA League Pass subscriptions. Average viewership in Mexico during the 2023 NBA Finals ranked fifth among countries outside the U.S.
The NBA has spent much of its focus on a grassroots basketball development system in Mexico and across Latin America. More than 130,000 kids participated in 350 clinics and tournaments in Mexico this year.
The NBA game is more international than ever with a record 125 international players from 40 countries on opening day rosters; Canada led the way with 26 players. The NBA’s 30 rosters did not include anyone from Mexico.
Best of Sportico.com