What: The New York Giants’ invitation of Octavio González to camp and Liga de Fútbol Americano Profesional’s expansion to 10 teams are signs that American football’s popularity is growing in Mexico.
Why it matters: The National Football League is looking to grow the popularity of football abroad and Mexico is a market that the league has targeted.
Octavio González’s (@tavogzz93) attempts to latch onto the National Football League (@NFL) have not been via the traditional route.
González did not play for an NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (@NCAAFootball) school like the University of Alabama (@AlabamaFTBL) or a Division I Football Championship Subdivision (@NCAA_FCS) like North Dakota State University (@NDSUathletics). Nor did he even play for a Division II (@NCAADII) or Division III (@NCAADIII) school.
The 6-3, 262 pound linebacker from Monterrey, Mexico, who was invited to the New York Giants’ (@Giants) May mini-camp, played college ball for the Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo León (UANL) Tigres (@AUTENTICOS_UANL) and currently plays for the Monterrey Fundidores of the Liga de Fútbol Americano Profesional (@LFAmex).
“The [Giants] coaches were impressed with the athletic talent I brought [to camp],” said González in an interview with Fox Sports MX (@FOXSportsMX). “I was practicing at a position I never practiced at before, let alone played before. I did well, to be honest. I felt at the same level as the guys that were there, and I’m on the [Giants’] short list.”
The fact that a professional league now exists in the country can only increase the fan base, and with the NFL bringing back games to Mexico, the popularity has no ceiling.
González sharpened his skill-sets in the LFA, which launched in 2016 with four teams, expanding to six franchises last year. At an April press conference prior to the Tazón México III title game, LFA president Óscar Pérez announced that league would add four more teams, expanding the league to 10 teams for the 2019 season.
“When we started this  season, we said it would be to consolidate and improve the league,” said Perez. “This could not be done without the help of the franchisees and I would like to announce, in a very content manner, and with the satisfaction of [a sense of] fulfillment, we are going to expand next season and consolidate ten teams in the Mexican Republic.”
The rapid expansion of the league is seen as a sign of the growing popularity of the sport of American football, south of the border.
“The fact that a professional league now exists in the country can only increase the fan base, and with the NFL bringing back games to Mexico, the popularity has no ceiling,” said Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) Spanish radio broadcast Tony Alvarez (@Tonyar27).
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Alvarez points outs that football has been popular in Mexico, at the college and university level, since the 1920s, but that support for the sport waned with a lack of professional league.
“The problem was that people only had their universities to cheer on,” said Alvarez. “And now, with the creation of the LFA, the opportunity to succeed as a player at the professional level and also to have a league of their own only grows.”
The NFL recently turned its attention back towards Mexico after an 11-year hiatus. In 2005, the Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) defeated the San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) 31–14 at Estadio Azteca (@EstadioAzteca) in Mexico City, in front of 103,467 fans, the first regular season NFL game held outside the United States.
Since that game, the NFL has focused on the European market, launching the International Series at Wembley Stadium (@wembleystadium) in London. The NFL returned to Mexico City, in 2016, with the Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) losing to Oakland Raiders (@RAIDERS), 27-20, in the first MNF game broadcast from outside the United States.
Alvarez believes that the success of the LFA is beneficial for the NFL to gain a foothold in the Mexican market.
“The LFA season starts after the NFL season, so it can be a ‘built up’ every year from fall to spring, and if somehow the two leagues can work some kind of partnership agreement to work together, it would even increase reaching out to the Mexican fan base,” said Alvarez. “So far, it seems that the LFA project is working and will work for many years. The NFL will benefit from that because more people will be interested in the sport and everyone wants to be a part of the highest level of competition, from a fan and development standpoint, that being the NFL.”
For players like González, the LFA represents a potential springboard to achieve his dream of playing professional American football in the United States.
“I had three years of inactivity and I saw that the league kept growing,” said González to Máximo Avance (@maximoavance), who stream all LFA league games. “I saw players that, in their time, they were stars on their (college) teams. So I said, ‘why not? I want to return to playing, and maybe I can use this as a trampoline,’ and good things are happening.”
Cover Image: Wikimedia Commons/Equiquinos