The NFL wants to play a regular season game outside the United States. The Cardinals see a half-empty Sun Devil Stadium on many game days. The two may make for a perfect match.
Barring any last-second problems, the Cardinals are expected to meet the San Francisco 49ers in Mexico City in a meeting that would serve as one of Arizona’s eight regular season home games. The game would be played at Azteca Stadium with a tentative date of Oct. 2.
Cardinals vice president Michael Bidwill emphasized Monday that no plans had been finalized. But he reiterated the NFL’s stand on wanting to take a regular season game outside the U.S. and said the Cardinals had lobbied to be included in such discussions.
"The possibility of the Cardinals on a national and international stage would be very intriguing," Bidwill said.
At his annual Super Bowl press conference, commissioner Paul Tagliabue was specifically asked about a regular season game in Mexico. He indicated the NFL did want to move a game that counted in the standings out of the country.
"Obviously, if that became possible in terms of taking a game away from the fans of a team in its home city, one of the places that would get serious consideration would be Mexico City," Tagliabue said.
Pete Abitante, the NFL’s senior director of international public affairs, echoed Tagliabue’s sentiments Monday, although he declined to get into specifics.
"It’s still along the lines of what the commissioner said at the Super Bowl," Abitante said. "We are still committed to playing a game outside the United States."
Abitante said Mexico City and London were the only cities under consideration.
"It will be something that would have to be ironed out quickly," Abitante added.
The NFL schedule is usually released sometime during the first two weeks in April. If the Cardinals are involved in a game in Mexico, it would explain why the Cardinals still have not released their ticket prices for 2005, because the organization would be waiting to see whether it will be charging fans for nine or 10 home games (including two preseason home games).
The Cardinals usually release ticket pricing information in January.
Arizona would have to be guaranteed a certain amount of money to give up a home game, but moving the game to Azteca Stadium could be a boon to the Cardinals. Azteca Stadium has hosted five preseason NFL games, three of which had crowds of more than 104,000 — including 112,376 to watch Dallas play Houston in 1994.
The attendance was lower the past two games there — Indianapolis and Pittsburgh in 2000, Dallas and Oakland in 2001 — but still averaged 87,727 fans.
By comparison, the Cardinals sold 35,069 tickets for their game against the 49ers at Sun Devil Stadium Dec. 12.
A game in Mexico would also allow the Cardinals to reach out to a Hispanic fan base, Bidwill said.
"Obviously the biggest thing in fan development is winning games," Bidwill said. "But the idea of playing a game in Mexico City would be a shot in the arm."
The NFL has held 39 preseason games outside the United States since Chicago and Dallas met in London in 1986, but the league has never taken a game that counts out of a team’s home stadium.
The Cardinals have never played a game outside the United States. The 49ers have played in eight "American Bowls."
Tokyo is already scheduled to host an American Bowl this year on Aug. 6 between Indianapolis and Atlanta.