Why is Chiefs vs. Chargers in Mexico City? How Azteca Stadium's elevation, turf impacts 'Monday Night Football'

Sporting News

The Chiefs and Chargers are playing their Week 11 "Monday Night Football" game in Mexico City because the NFL looked at the Chargers' stadium situation and figured: Eh, would anyone in Los Angeles notice if we moved a game from Dignity Health Sports Park to Azteca Stadium?

OK, so that's not the full reason why Mexico is hosting Chiefs vs. Chargers on Monday night. But it's not exactly a lie, either.

The "home teams" for the NFL's international series in 2019 were announced last December. The Chargers joined the Jaguars, Rams, Raiders and Buccaneers as teams that would lose a 2019 home game to either Mexico City or London as part of the series. It's no coincidence that those franchises rank near the bottom in NFL attendance figures, with the Chargers' average of 25,385 being by far the league's worst.

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In April, the NFL as part of its 2019 schedule release announced Chiefs vs. Chargers would be the fourth regular-season game Azteca Stadium, known in Mexico City as Estadio Azteca, has hosted. The game in Mexico City is part of the NFL's international series, which began in 2007 as league's modern attempt at promoting its game outside of the United States.

Below is all you need to know about that series, the Monday night matchup between the Chiefs and the Chargers, and info about Azteca Stadium.

MORE: Full betting preview for Chiefs vs. Chargers

Why is Chiefs vs. Chargers in Mexico City?

A few months after the Chargers were included in the list of teams that would lose a 2019 home game to either Mexico City or London, the NFL announced Chiefs vs. Chargers would mark the fifth and final game of its international series this season. The other four games of the series in 2019 were played in London.

The NFL's international series obviously aims to promote its game outside of the United States. The league also claims its games in London and Mexico City "help focus attention on the importance of participation in youth sports." And of course, there's the money from a market the league considers untapped.

“I think it’s a tremendous market for us, and there’s a lot of opportunity,” NFL chief operating officer of international competition Damani Leech told The Kansas City Star. “So while there are over 20 million fans here in Mexico, we think there’s great opportunity to increase that number over time. And certainly having games in that market is a great way for fans to touch and feel and experience the NFL. But we’re constantly looking for other ways, as well, to connect with those people.”

MORE: NFL extends deal to play in Mexico

The idea of the NFL expanding its international series to Mexico was discussed at a spring league meeting in 2015; China and Germany also were being considered as host countries for regular-season games. Later that year, the NFL green-lighted a plan that approved games to be played in Mexico. Eager to get a game on the 2016 schedule, the NFL in November of 2015 sent reps to Mexico City to scout sites. Mission accomplished: Texans vs. Raiders was included on the "Monday Night Football" schedule in 2016.

Mexico City has hosted a regular-season NFL game every year since, all at Azteca Stadium, with the exception of 2018. More on that below.

Azteca-Stadium-111819-Getty-FTR.jpg
Azteca-Stadium-111819-Getty-FTR.jpg

Why did the NFL move the game from Mexico City in 2018?

Last year's Monday night game between the Chiefs and Rams was supposed to be the fourth Mexico City installment of the NFL's international series. Then, just six days before the game, it was moved to Los Angeles due to concerns over field conditions at Azteca Stadium.

The culprit? A Shakira concert that "left the grass surface in significant disrepair" about a month prior. (It's worth noting that the NFL evidently holds no grudge against Shakira.)

The NFL claimed the decision to move the game to LA was "based on the determination that the playing field at Azteca Stadium​ (did) not meet NFL standards for playability and consistency."

Added NFL executive vice president of international Mark Waller: "Until very recently, we had no major concerns. But, the combination of a difficult rainy season and a heavy multi-event calendar of events at the stadium, have resulted in significant damage to the field that presents unnecessary risks to player safety and makes it unsuitable to host an NFL game. As a result, we have determined that moving the game is the right decision, and one that we needed to announce now in order to allow our teams and fans to make alternate arrangements."

As a result, fans in Mexico City missed out on the best NFL game of the season; the Rams outlasted the Chiefs, 54-51, in a game that exceeded all great expectations.

This year, Chiefs vs. Chargers is not expected to live up to those standards, but at least the field won't be a problem.

"While the decision was made last year that the field wasn’t playable, that same week, NFL leadership, in partnership with Televisa, who owns the stadium, and the Mexican government, we were making commitments to come back next year," Leech told The Star, which also pointed out the terms the NFL established in order to allow another Mexico game to be scheduled. They are as follows:

  • "They would hire a field consultant to take monthly visits to Mexico City to check on the field. He or she would collaborate with stadium management and return with pictures, detailed reports and recommendations."

  • "Volume. Televisa would scale back the events it hosted leading up to Monday’s game, reserving the stadium only for regularly-scheduled soccer matches as the football game drew near."

  • "A backup plan. Together, the organizations would plant a sod farm nearby. If needed, the farm would be used to replace patches of the field or the entire 120-yard playing surface."

All boxes were checked. And according to The Star, the Azteca Stadium schedule was cleared of concerts from August through November.

In addition, Azteca Stadium officials replaced the field's hybrid surface that was installed last year with natural grass. Over the summer, NFL officials inspected and approved the stadium's new surface.

NFL games in Mexico City

Below is a list of the regular-season NFL games that have been played in Mexico City.

All regular-season NFL games in Mexico City have been played at Azteca Stadium.

Year

Matchup

Score

2019

Chiefs vs. Chargers

TBD

2017

Patriots vs. Raiders

Patriots, 33-8

2016

Texans vs. Raiders

Raiders, 27-20

2005

49ers vs. Cardinals

Cardinals, 31-14

In addition to the regular-season games listed above, the NFL has held six exhibition games in Mexico City — Saints vs. Eagles in 1978, Cowboys vs. Oilers in 1994, Dolphins vs. Broncos in 1997, Cowboys vs. Patriots in 1998, Colts vs. Steelers in 2000 and Cowboys vs. Raiders in 2001.

The 49ers-Cardinals game in 2005, promoted at the time as "NFL Fútbol Americano" a few years before the league installed its international series, was the first regular-season NFL game played outside the United States. It set what was then an NFL attendance record for a regular-season game at 103,467 in Azteca Stadium.

Elevation, altitude at Azteca Stadium

The Broncos' stadium in Denver, where both the Chiefs and the Chargers play one game every year, carries the nickname "Mile High" because it sits 5,280 feet above sea level, presenting players physical issues related to a low concentration of oxygen in the air.

Sitting 7,201 feet above sea level, Azteca Stadium presents even bigger issues.

As teams scheduled to play in Mexico City have done in the past, the Chargers took measures to prepare themselves for this extreme elevation. They spent the week before the game practicing at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., an area with an altitude similar to what they'll experience in Mexico City.

The Chiefs, on the other hand, stayed at their home facility. They hope their sticking to a traditional routine without additional travel will be advantageous.

"The altitude to me is something that’s just part of it," Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes said last week, via USA Today. "I’m going to trust what Rick (Burkholder) and Coach (Andy) Reid and their plan and the process. I’ve never been affected, knock on wood, never been affected like in Denver or anything like that. I know it’s supposed to be twice as high or whatever, but I’m going to go out there and focus on the game and what I can in order to have success.”

Such a high altitude also allows footballs to travel against less air density, so both teams' kicking games should benefit. As Pro Football Talk points out, Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski easily set his career high with a 62-yard field goal when the Patriots played the Raiders in Mexico City a couple years ago.

Azteca Stadium capacity

Azteca Stadium is the biggest sports venue in Mexico. The stadium's latest renovation project, completed in 2016, reduced its seating capacity to 87,000.

Prior to that renovation, though, the stadium that opened in 1966 set multiple NFL single-game attendance records. Including exhibition games, Azteca Stadium still holds the NFL record of 112,376 attendees at a Cowboys vs. Oilers preseason game in 1994.

Courtesy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, below is a list of the largest crowds in NFL history. Four of the games on the list were played in Mexico City, with three of those having taken place at Azteca Stadium.

Date

Stadium

Game

Teams

Attendance

Aug. 15, 1994

Azteca Stadium

American Bowl

Cowboys vs. Oilers

112,376

Aug. 17, 1998

Azteca Stadium

American Bowl

Cowboys vs. Patriots

106,424

Aug. 22, 1947

Soldier Field

College All-Star

Bears vs. All-Stars

105,840

Sept. 20, 2009

Cowboys Stadium

Regular Season

Cowboys vs. Giants

105,121

Aug. 4, 1997

Estadio Guillermo Canedo

American Bowl

Broncos vs. Dolphins

104,629

Jan. 20, 1980

Rose Bowl

Super Bowl XIV

Steelers vs. Rams

103,985

Jan. 30, 1983

Rose Bowl

Super Bowl XVII

Redskins vs. Dolphins

103,667

Oct. 2, 2005

Azteca Stadium

Regular Season

49ers at Cardinals

103,467

Jan. 9, 1977

Rose Bowl

Super Bowl XI

Raiders vs. Vikings

103,438

Nov. 10, 1957

LA Coliseum

Regular Season

49ers at Rams

102,368

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