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Column 012714 Wall

Monday, January 27, 2014

Super Bowl XLVIII and Mexican National Football League Fans

By Allan Wall

The NFL championship game, known as  Super Bowl XLVIII, is scheduled for February 2nd, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, pitting  the Seattle Seahawks against the Denver Broncos.

Historically, the Broncos have won the Super Bowl twice, in 1997 and 1998.  The Seahawks have never won it, though they did play in Super Bowl XL in 2006, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

More than just a sports event, the Super Bowl is a major entertainment production.  The halftime show features major pop artists in expensive mini-concerts with corporate sponsors.  Super Bowl acts through the years have included The Who, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, U2, Bruce Springsteen, and Michael Jackson.

Super Bowl commercials are the most expensive and most-watched on American television, running at about US$3 million per 30 seconds.  

For the viewers at home, the Super Bowl is a major social event.  More food is consumed on Super Bowl Sunday than on any other day, except for Thanksgiving. 

The Super Bowl is not only watched in the United States - it has viewers in other countries, including Mexico.

It may surprise some to know that, south of the border, there are many Mexican fans of football, or as they refer to it, fútbol americano - "American football."  (The sport known as soccer in the U.S. is called fútbol.)

The sport of fútbol americano has been played in Mexican schools and universities since the 1920s. When I resided in Mexico I attended some games, and it's the same sport as played north of the border!

There is a Mexican college league known as ONEFA (Organización Nacional Estudiantil de Fútbol Americano), which holds national championships.  The champions of 2012 were the Potros Salvajes  (Wild Ponies) of UAEM (the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México).

Mexican television regularly broadcasts NFL games from the U.S., and it has some good commentators.

It's been estimated that there are 20 million or so NFL fans in Mexico, giving it the league's biggest fan base outside the U.S.A.

There have even been some NFL games played in Mexico.  In fact, the first NFL regular season game played outside the U.S. was between the Cardinals and the 49ers, in Mexico City's Azteca Stadium, in 2005 (the Cardinals won).  That game was attended by over 100,000, so you can see there's a market for the NFL in Mexico.

The Pittsburgh Steelers (Los Acereros de Pittsburgh) are the most popular NFL team in Mexico.  It's been reported that in Mexico City alone there are 10,000 fans of the team.  Monterrey is another big Steelers town - interestingly, the northern Mexico city is the center of the Mexican steel industry.  There are Steelers fan clubs in all major Mexican cities.  Mexican Steelers' fans include among their number former First Lady Margarita Zavala de Calderon, who was able to visit Heinz Field while in Pittsburgh for the 2009 G-20 Summit.

The popularity of the Steelers in Mexico originated from their great success in the 1970s, when the team made the playoffs eight times and won the Super Bowl four times.  During the same decade, Mexico's Televisa network frequently aired their games.

As Televisa broadcaster Antonio Valdez explains, "Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris and Lynn Swann and all those players were very popular [with] the young boys, young guys who started to watch the NFL.  When you win you cause impact, with the children you cause impact."

Not every NFL fan in Mexico is a Steelers fan; the Dallas Cowboys are also very popular.  And, the Green Bay Packers (Los Empacadores de Green Bay) are among the Top Ten most popular teams in the country.

Mexican NFL fans can watch the games in their homes, of course, but some fans like to watch games in restaurants or bars.  However, a specifically Mexican custom is to watch a football game in a movie theater.  Yes, that's right - there are movie theaters in Mexico City that show NFL games!

I expect that when the kickoff for Super Bowl XLVIII rolls around plenty of Mexican fans will be watching.

May the best team win!

Note: On January 21st I was interviewed on Silvio Canto, Jr's, "Canto Talk" show.  We discussed the NFL in Mexico, my recent trip to Mexico, and other topics.  You can listen to the interview here.

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Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at http://www.allanwall.info/.

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