MEXICO CITY — To wink at the New Orleans Saints’ rise, they bellowed “When the Saints Go Marching In,” doing their best, if slightly accented, Louis Armstrong impersonation.
Half-arguing, like fans at a bar, they assessed the best football coaches of all time, pointedly leaving out one visiting here this weekend: Bill Belichick.
And, even thousands of miles south of the United States border, the lowly Los Angeles Chargers could not escape some lumps for failing to fill their small, temporary and noticeably empty stadium.
“Nuestros amigos del podcast podrían llenar ese estadio,” joked Ulises Harada. (“Our podcast friends could fill that stadium.”)
Maybe he wasn’t kidding.
Harada is a host and founder of Primero y Diez, or First and 10, a collection of morning zoo-style podcasts, filled with songs and zany sound effects, about all things N.F.L. Its online programs, cousins of the Men in Blazers mode of coverage, are some of the most popular in Mexico, reflecting an unabashed devotion to the sport that has helped persuade the league to stage and promote games here.
Primero y Diez began as a blog in 2008, run by Harada and a friend, and has mushroomed into four podcasts, with a paid staff of 12 and, it says, 1.5 million visits to its programs monthly during the football season.
Primero y Diez has grown in sync with Mexican interest in the N.F.L., accelerated by the regular season game here last season — the first in Mexico City in 11 years — and by a matchup Sunday between the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders at the city’s famed Estadio Azteca, with another game planned for next year.
Mexico’s proximity to the United States and a developing middle class fluent in American culture, not to mention innumerable cross-border ties, make it a market with unfulfilled potential for American sports leagues.
The N.B.A., too, has a serious eye on Mexico, with two regular season games to be played here in December and its commissioner, Adam Silver, professing interest in adding a franchise in Mexico City. Formula One, for the third year, staged a prominent race here in October, and Major League Baseball has plans to hold a three-game series between the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers in May in Monterrey, the first regular season games in Mexico in 19 years.
The leagues are finding that these big events carry a cachet that Mexicans, regardless of their level of interest in the sport, are willing to pay for.
“There is a social effect, and one of not wanting to miss the big event in the city,” said Rodrigo Latorre, an independent sports marketing analyst. “In that regard, a lot of attendance is guaranteed.”
Both N.F.L. games, in a stadium with a capacity of 72,000 for American football, sold out in less than an hour (the average price was $95.)
On Primero y Diez programs, the complicated discussions and debate that occur in the United States — over concussions, domestic violence, racial protests by players and whether the sport is in decline — take a back seat to full-throated dissections of Philip Rivers’s floating passes, and Blake Bortles’s interceptions, and whether the Rams “can play with the big boys of the N.F.C.”
“Here in Mexico they like sports, but they don’t like to talk about what surrounds sports,” said Harada, 32, who worked in public relations and sports journalism before beginning the site to satisfy his own demand for saturated N.F.L. news and commentary.
When the site shut down for a week in September, out of respect for the 370 people killed in and around Mexico City by an earthquake , a wave of complaints came in.
“People were looking for information to place their bets,” said Andres Ornelas, 34, who does a betting podcast for the site. “They said it’s how they pay their rent.”
A loose vibe prevails in the cramped, rented booth where the podcasts are recorded. A cardboard cutout of Raiders quarterback Derek Carr loomed over the hosts this week, and during one taping they sipped cold beer while riffing on the weekend’s games.
“There is great quality in their content with a lot of different elements that give great, additional value,” said Eric Arriaga, a 34-year-old government lawyer who follows the podcasts. “All their work is unique and original.”
Though overshadowed by the more widespread, rabid following of soccer, American football has long been popular here, with youth leagues (some of them financed by the N.F.L.), high school and college programs and fledgling professional teams.
The N.F.L. is betting on a future of long-term economic growth in Mexico to expand the middle class and lure more sponsors; further develop a growing fan base (the league’s surveys put it at upward of 10 million self-described hard-core fans); and increase sales of merchandise and television and media rights.
In a typical week, nine games are aired in Mexico City, two on broadcast television and the others on cable — in some cases more than what is available in most American cities. As in the United States, ratings have slipped “in the single digits,” said Arturo Olive, the N.F.L.’s point person in Mexico.
Some of that loss, he said, has been made up through the growing popularity of the league’s Game Pass service, which allows viewers to stream any game, and Olive predicted that the N.F.L. and Televisa, the Mexican broadcasting powerhouse that carries the regular season games, would renew their contract when it comes up in 2020.
Most analysts believe that security and logistical hurdles make putting a permanent team here largely a fantasy. The city’s smog and elevation of about 7,500 feet are enough of a challenge that extra oxygen tanks will be on hand for the players this weekend.
But the league reaps benefits in business deals around the visits. Olive said the game on Sunday would turn a profit for the league, but he declined to elaborate.
“At the very least, the underlying long-run effect of the N.F.L.’s traveling expansion-relocation gambit is ultimately to widen the league’s worldwide media footprint,” said John Vrooman, a Vanderbilt University economist who has studied the league’s strategy.
The N.F.L. decided to resume regular season games here after Estadio Azteca, a showcase venue for soccer, was remodeled last year for its 50th anniversary, adding two locker rooms suitable for professional football teams and internet and communications upgrades expressly to lure back the N.F.L.
The Patriots and Raiders are two of the most popular teams in Mexico. The Cowboys and the Steelers lead the pack, since their games were the first to be broadcast in the country in the 1970s. When fans are encountered here, they tend to be rabid about the sport.
“What I would tell you is the level of knowledge that fans have of the game, the Xs and Os, the sophistication, is as strong as it is in the U.S.,” said Mark Waller, the N.F.L.’s chief international executive. “When you become the fan of a sport in another country, almost by definition you become more knowledgeable because you have to force yourself to learn it.”
The young men behind Primero y Diez exemplify that.
Their site is housed in an incubator for tech start-ups in a hip neighborhood, buzzing with well-educated 20- and 30-somethings like themselves.
Jorge Tinajero, 41, a computer engineer who is another founder of the site, traces his passion for the sport to a family tradition of football, in his case a father who played at a college in Mexico.
Tinajero played touch football as a boy and remembers getting hooked for good while watching John Elway in the Super Bowl against the Giants.
“And then I started suffering every two or three years like die-hard Broncos fans,” he said.
Carlos Gorozpe, 31, a social network and website consultant and a commentator on Primero y Diez, said he had never caught the soccer bug, instead inheriting a fondness for the Buffalo Bills from an uncle mad about the team and about college football here and in the United States.
“As a kid, I woke up to watch bowl games,” he said.
Primero y Diez receives news media credentials from the N.F.L. — and Harada writes occasional pieces in Spanish for the Steelers website — but it otherwise is not affiliated with the league, which Harada said he preferred.
“I like the idea of independence, I have so many ideas,” he said.
This week, Primero y Diez has been in its element. It has published a magazine on the Patriots-Raiders game, filled with statistical breakdowns, player snapshots, a history of the stadium. And it was planning live shows on Facebook in the days leading up to the game.
“I don’t see the Raiders winning this game, but … ” Gorozpe said during a recording session, setting up an argument about the strengths and weaknesses of the teams. The debate litigated, among other points, whether the Raiders’ having played here last year (in a 27-20 win over the Houston Texans) was a bonus or the Patriots’ general dominance and their altitude training in Colorado this week would give them an edge.
“I don’t know what the Raiders are going to do to deter the offense of the Patriots,” Tinajero said.
Harada settled on a prediction: Raiders over the Patriots, 31-28.
It surely did not come out of thin air.
Published at Fri, 17 Nov 2017 19:42:07 +0000