49ers, Cardinals hope to expand fan base

Updated: July 15, 2005, 5:56 PM ET
Associated Press

MEXICO CITY -- The NFL emphasized again Friday that if its first regular-season game abroad this year is successful, it could be the start of a broader international push.

The league "is going to look at all of the markets that have indicated an interest in doing this around the world: several in Europe, Canada, Asia," Roger Goodell, the league's executive vice president, said.

Goodell spoke at a news conference to talk about the Oct. 2 game between the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers, the first regular-season contest outside the United States.

Goodell re-emphasized what commissioner Paul Tagliabue said when he announced the project: that if the game here between the Cardinals and 49ers is a success, the league might "look to play an international game, maybe on an annual basis, and rotate that around to some of the markets that have an interest globally."

But the league wants to know first how the game goes in North America's largest metropolis, one that has hosted five NFL preseason games. The first of those set a league attendance record of 112,376 in 1994 when the Dallas Cowboys met the Houston Oilers.

Attendance this year can't top 105,000 because of modifications since then to Azteca Stadium.

The stadium's 7,200-foot altitude has helped make Azteca difficult for visiting soccer teams, including the U.S. national team in games against Mexico. In this case, San Francisco safety Tony Parrish said, "The altitude is going to affect both teams the same."

Goodell said the league will have to cope with teams' home-game stadium commitments. "We do the scheduling and most of the leases recognize that," he said, but acknowledged, "those will be issues we'll have to address as we look to how we expand this series if we find that this is the right way to do it."

Mexico was chosen for the first game partly because it has the largest NFL fan base outside of the United States and regularly televised games have created loyal fans of the Cowboys, 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers, among others.

The country also has a national collegiate league and the NFL sponsors a national touch football series for youths.

The Cardinals are the home team, in part because they stand to lose little from their home gate. The team, which is moving into a modern new stadium last year, often is lucky to fill half the seats at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., its home field.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press