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After Indianapolis, NFL Looks to Mexico

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Jeremy Lin -- the Harvard economics major turned couch surfer turned Sports Illustrated cover athlete/subject of thousands of news stories -- has, over the last week, defied expectations both with his play and with the number of puns made out of his name. When he isn’t occupying Facebook and Google News (GOOG) feeds, Lin is driving marketing execs the world over crazy with his prospects as a spokesman in China.

The NBA’s biggest market outside of North America, China is a potential cash cow for the league and its advertisers, and Lin is seen as the perfect replacement for now retired Yao Ming. Of course, it’s only been a little more than a week, and Lin hasn’t managed to sell anything (beyond tickets) yet.

While the NBA looks east, America’s most popular sport, football, is looking south. That’s right, for the NFL one promising new market isn’t China, but Mexico -- a country with its own football (or fútbol) traditions.

A recent article in World Crunch points out that American football is surprisingly popular south of the border. Some die-hard Mexican fans even commute to the US to watch Cowboys and Chargers games.

The NFL has run an office in Mexico City since 1998 and in 2005 chose the city to host its first regular season match-up outside of the US. In it, the Cardinals beat the 49ers in a game that drew over 100,000 spectators and set a still unbroken attendance record.

Already huge in the US, the NFL needs to draw an international audience in order to grow. The league’s general director of operations in Mexico, Arturo Olivé, has set a goal of attracting more Mexican sponsors over the next three years.

While it seems unlikely that the NFL will replace soccer in Mexico any time soon, its popularity does point to the growing international fan base for American sports. The league has already made several attempts at the European Market and Mexico City may be more receptive than London. At the very least, it’s a better commute.

Regardless of how football’s expansion works out, one famous athlete has already announced plans to head south. Disgraced baseball player -- and the #32 all-time home run leader -- Jose Canseco has signed on, at 47, with Mexico’s Quintana Roo Tigers.
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