To the NFL, Donald Trumpâs plan to build a wall along the Mexican border is of little consequence.
The league will simply step over it should that election promise ever come to pass.
NFL executive vice president/International Mark Waller told Sporting News that the upcoming Trump presidency has no immediate effect on the league’s plans to continue staging games in Mexico despite the possibility of escalating friction between that country and the U.S. regarding governmental issues like immigration, deportation and trade agreements.
“Iâm a firm believer that any international focus requires you to manage within the political climate that exists,â Waller said in a Thursday telephone interview. âYou canât control what government is or is not in place. Our job irrespective of that is doing everything we can do to expand the popularity of our sport.â
Mexico is a fertile climate for the growth the NFL is seeking through its international slate of games. The league began airing there during the 1960s and has become increasingly popular.
Earlier this year, the NFL claimed a fan base of 28.3 million followers in Mexico with 9.9 million defined as âhard-coreâ supporters. The fivethirtyeight.com web site reported in 2014 that Mexico City itself has more NFL fans than all but six U.S. cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas and Houston).
Nine live games are shown on Mexican television each week with more available through paid subscription services. There is a full-time NFL office in Mexico City and 20 league sponsors in the country.
There are even 19 sanctioned college football teams through the ONEFA (OrganizaciÃ³n Nacional Estudiantil de Futbol Americano) as well as other unaffiliated squads. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton actually played against one of them âÂ and lost âÂ in a scrimmage during the 2009 season he spent at Blinn (Texas) Junior College.
The 75,000-plus tickets for Monday nightâs matchup between Houston and Oakland at Azteca Stadium sold out almost instantly for the first NFL game in Mexico since 2005. That contest between Arizona and San FranciscoÂ set the leagueâs all-time attendance record with a crowd of 103,467 fans.
The NFL probably could have broken the mark again for Texans vs. Raiders but instead opted to work with Azteca Stadium to reduce seating capacity in hopes of improving the fan experience.
“This is the toughest ticket in town for any sporting event in Mexico,”Â ESPN reporter John Sutcliffe told Sporting News. âItâs crazy.”
The Cardinals beat the 49ers, 31-14, at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City back in October of 2005.
Sutcliffe isnât shilling for ESPN, which is telecasting the game. As a Mexico City native who still lives there, he speaks from first-hand experience.
That also means Sutcliffe is seeing the aftermath from Trumpâs election win in his home country. Although he expects the Monday night stadium environment will be âa fiesta,” Sutcliffe does wonder what the impact of a Trump presidency will make upon Mexico and if any fallout will trickle-down to the NFL.
“People are surprised at what happened,”Â Sutcliffe said. âMexicans are worried because of the (declining) exchange rate between the peso and dollar â¦ But I think itâs too soon to tell what effect it will have.”
So does Matt Bowers, a sports management professor at the University of Texas who pays close attention to international expansion efforts of U.S. sports leagues.
“Certainly in the post-election climate, it’s easy to be a bit reactionary considering the discourse in the relationship between Mexico and the U.S. from President-elect Trump,”Â Bowers told Sporting News. “It’s easy to be concerned about that whether youâre the NFL or Mexican side as well. There have been a lot of things that have been said that have never been said before.
“Do I really think itâs going to make an impact long-term? I say no at this point. If socio-political forces get to the point of toxicity where they start to really influence market forces, then it becomes problematic. But itâs not like the NFL just got put on Mexicoâs radar five years ago.”
Marc Ganis, who is one of the leading sports industry experts, has a similar take. Ganis told Sporting News that a Trump presidency will likely impact America far more on a global scale âÂ like Los Angeles trying to land the 2024 Summer Olympics through a worldwide vote of other countries âÂ than the NFL, which derives almost all of its estimated $14 billion in annual revenue from the U.S. market.
“First, presidents typically donât get involved in this kind of thing,”Â said Ganis, the president and co-founder of Chicago-based Sportscorp, Ltd. “Thereâs also something subtle here, which is this: Doesnât Mexico need to demonstrate some support for us and our culture and industry as well? Would that not help them? I think it does under the current climate.”
In turn, the NFL wants to continue making inroads into the Latino market both stateside and internationally. The average regular-season viewership among Hispanics has risen 28 percent since 2011, according to the Nielsen Company.
“When the NFL comes to Mexico City, it says to all Hispanic fans in the U.S., ‘Theyâre going where either I have roots or my family came from,'”Â Sutcliffe said. “Thatâs big.”
Provided the Houston-Oakland game goes smoothly Monday from both a team and fan standpoint, Waller said the NFL expects to hold another Mexico game next season and potentially in 2018. The Raiders and Texans have embraced the experience with pre-game parties involving former players as well as community outreach.
“To go down to Mexico in front of the fans down there, itâs going to be so exciting,â Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said earlier this week. “Itâs going to be a loud, rowdy environment.”
At least thatâs one certainty the NFL can count on before the Trump presidency begins.
Alex Marvez can be heard from 7 to 11 p.m. ET Friday and 8 to 11 a.m. ET Saturday on SiriusXM NFL Radio.