A year after the NFL was forced to move a game in Mexico City to Los Angeles due to poor field conditions, things have … not changed much. The Chiefs and Chargers played at Estadio Azteca on Monday Night Football and had several plays ruined by the field, which was predictably torn up right out of the gate.
That same thing happens to the field during events hosted at the venue. It was a natural grass field for most of its life before a switch to a field combining artificial turf and real grass in advance of the planned NFL game a year ago. After the league moved that game, the stadium hastily switched back to a grass field during the Liga MX (Mexico’s top soccer league) break in June of this year.
It certainly wasn’t holding up on Monday night.
At halftime, there were workers trying to fill in divots, like this one:
Some would say the field is not fit for an NFL game, but fans in Mexico City generally agree that it’s barely fit for a soccer game, either. Because the stadium is a cultural centerpiece for the city and the country as a whole, it regularly hosts concerts and other non-sporting events that are hard on the turf. Couple that with such a large field needing time to set when new turf is put in, and it’s not a surprise it’s been such a mess.
Interestingly, the stadium itself remains a great place to attend a game. It was built in the 1960s, and held its first soccer game in 1966. Since then, it’s been home to a number of professional soccer teams, as well as host to anything from concerts to religious events to funerals. Recently, the stadium underwent serious renovations that reduced its seating capacity, but greatly improved on the aesthetics and technologies surrounding its fan experience. It’s a good home to any sports team these days, if not for the issues with the field.
So, what happens next with the NFL?
As of now, there is no deal in place for future NFL games to be played at Estadio Azteca. The NFL wants to continue expanding its International Series, which includes games played in London. There have consistently been rumors that the league wants to have a permanent international team in the NFL, too.
However, the league has to ensure the field conditions are safe, and not a major injury risk, for players.
The NFL held games in Mexico City in 2016 and 2017, and of course planned to hold one last year. The league has already worked with event organizers at the stadium to try to increase the quality of the field, both through local sod farms, an agreement that the stadium would hold fewer events in proximity to NFL games, and hiring a consultant to check on the field monthly.
Mexico City would be a great place for an NFL team. The area has extremely passionate fans who will love any team that goes there, and its economy, at least locally, can sustain an NFL team. Even if the NFL didn’t move a team there permanently, both sides would benefit from the International Series continuing on an annual basis.
But there’s this field issue, and it’s not going away any time soon. It’s doubtful the stadium would switch to a purely artificial turf — one that would be able to handle the number of events — without significant help or pushing from the outside. The NFL could provide that help, if the end goal was playing more games there.
NFL fans watching Monday’s game might assume this is a lost cause, especially after last year’s game was relocated, but it’s anything but. There are still a ton of positives about playing games at Estadio Azteca. The field is the only major hurdle — it’s just a big one.