Why Is Monday Night Football in Mexico City?

Estadio Azteca

The Raiders and Texans will play in the first NFL game in Mexico City since 2005 tonight at Estadio Azteca.

The NFL returns to play a regular season game in Mexico for the first time since 2005. More than 80,000 fans are expected to attend the Monday Night Football game between the Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans.

The game kicks off at 8:25 p.m. ET in Mexico City at the Azteca Stadium. The last time the NFL played in Mexico was when the Arizona Cardinals notched a 31-14 win over the San Francisco 49ers in 2005. The match-up drew a record crowd of 103,467, and still ranks as one of the highest attended regular season games, according to Forbes.

This is the 19th game featured in the NFL International Series, which aims to increase the league’s global presence and fan base. Since the 2007 season, the NFL has hosted regular season games outside of the United States every year as part of the series. Seventeen of those games have been held in London, averaging about 80,000 fans in attendance.

According to Mark Waller, the NFL’s international chief, the NFL is hoping tonight’s game in Mexico will also become a recurring international game.

“My goal would be similar to the U.K., where we’re able to go back at least once a year and create our piece of the Mexico City sporting calendar,” Waller said, according to NFL.com. “Mexico City has the size of NFL fan base that would rival any city in the United States. The area is 22 million people. It’s a huge and very passionate fan base.”

Tonight’s game is part of the NFL’s larger effort to attract Hispanic fans. NFL viewership among Hispanics has increased 28 percent in the past five years alone, according to Nielsen. There are four Mexican channels airing NFL games on a weekly basis.

As CNN Money reported, the NFL estimates it has about 22 million fans in Mexico, and Mexico City has the seventh largest fan base of any city outside of the United States.

When tickets went on sale in July for tonight’s match-up between the Raiders and Texans, the NFL announced that they sold out in 30 minutes.

The league plans to expand its London series from three regular-season games in 2016 to at least four by 2018. Waller has lofty plans for the NFL’s expansion into other international markets.

“I believe one of our unique advantages is because of our schedule, we can play in many different places,” Waller said. “I would love to think over time we could play in other cities in Mexico. I think we should play in Canada. I think we should play in Germany. I think if you spread out 10 years, there would be, in every NFL season, a number of games that give you a real sense that we were part of the global sporting community in multiple cities throughout the season. I like the London strategy, but I think it was narrow. I would love to think, 10 years out, in a season we were playing Mexico City, Vancouver, Berlin, three or four in London. That feels very inclusive.”

Tonight’s game marks the first time the NFL has held Monday Night Football outside the United States.