The NFL pulled the plug on its International Series game in Mexico City on Tuesday.
The league will relocate the Monday night game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams to Los Angeles after poor turf conditions at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca proved to be too much to overcome to the liking of the teams and its players.
“Until very recently, we had no major concerns,” said Mark Waller, NFL executive vice president of International, in a statement. “But, the combination of a difficult rainy season and a heavy multi-event calendar of events at the stadium, have resulted in significant damage to the field that presents unnecessary risks to player safety and makes it unsuitable to host an NFL game.
“As a result, we have determined that moving the game is the right decision, and one that we needed to announce now in order to allow our teams and fans to make alternate arrangements.”
The game was in trouble as early as Monday, as two league sources told Yahoo Sports the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs were making travel preparations for the “likelihood” the game would take place in Los Angeles. Players from each team sought involvement from their union over the field conditions, multiple sources told Yahoo Sports. Those players asked for the NFLPA to give a safety inspection of the field as there was concern that the NFL was throwing down new sod on the surface without giving it adequate time to take hold.
Yahoo Sports reported Monday that the Rams and Chiefs had significant concerns over the quality of the playing surface at Estadio Azteca, following a Shakira concert that left the field in tatters on Oct. 11. Despite a push by the NFL on Azteca stadium officials to get the turf issue resolved, league sources said the field still showed concerning issues when representatives from the league and teams had a mandatory inspection on Monday. The sources told Yahoo Sports on Monday that a “break the glass” option of relocating the game to Los Angeles was on the table if the field issues couldn’t be resolved.
When pressed for whether relocation was an option Monday, NFL spokesman Michael Signora issued a statement to Yahoo Sports stating, “We are working closely with the field manager at Azteca Stadium and others to ensure that we have a NFL quality surface for our game, and we are looking forward to kicking off in Mexico City on Monday night.”
Signora was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
This is Estadio Azteca field right now. Where we will soon see an NFL game. Should it be played in that condition?
— Club Fantasy (@ClubFantasyFFL) November 10, 2018
Sources from the Rams and Chiefs told Yahoo Sports there had been a flurry of concern over the state of the field since October. Soon after the Shakira concert, photos of the grass surface circulated inside the league and teams showing the field in significant disrepair. The sources said that quickly led to pressure on Estadio Azteca officials to ensure the surface would be in peak shape for the Nov. 19 game.
As this week approached, the concern prompted officials inside the teams to question whether relocation of the game was possible. As part of the international series, it’s mandatory for the “home” team in the matchup to keep the date open at their stadium in the event a game gets derailed. Per that agreement, the Rams kept the Nov. 19 date available at the L.A. Coliseum in case of emergency.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Tuesday that players on each team are considering boycotting the game if it remains in Mexico.
The field at Mexico City’s iconic stadium has apparently been a concern for months, following a change from natural to hybrid grass last spring. But the heavy use of the turf since the installation has hindered its growth in recent months, leaving the surface susceptible to damage from heavily trafficked events. None were as problematic as the Shakira concert, which left the surface in a state that hasn’t recovered fully over the past month. Interestingly, Estadio Azteca continued to host other events over the last month in spite of the damage, further hindering the recovery of the field.
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