How NFL makes sense for Mexico on many levels, falls short on others

— -- On Monday the NFL returns to Mexico for the first time in 11 years.

Since the last time the game was played in the country in October 2005, the league has focused on London, which has played host to 17 games since 2007. The London dividends have been huge crowds and television ratings, which have more than doubled.

As the league attempts to broaden its international appeal with a commitment to foreign markets, Mexico was a natural place to return, hoping to boost viewership, which has risen 28 percent in the past five years alone. NFL owners made a commitment in 2015 to play international regular-season games through 2025.

In the late 1960s, NFL games came to Mexico on TV and became popular about a decade later. That is why, after the Dallas Cowboys, who owe some fan affinity to proximity, the Oakland Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers -- franchises that dominated at that time -- are often listed as favorite teams among Mexicans.

Today, there's no shortage of places to watch the NFL. Mexicans get nine live games a week, which through a new deal with ESPN includes Sunday and Monday Night Football, and for the first time this season, the Red Zone channel. The Texans-Raiders game will be the first Monday Night Football game to be played outside the U.S. Another advantage: Mexico's time zones overlap those in the U.S.

To capitalize on the growing interest, the league has had an office in Mexico for 18 years and has sold 20 sponsorships to native companies, including the likes of Visa, Anheuser-Busch InBev and Papa John's.

London, by some, has been considered to have a real opportunity to have an NFL franchise in the future. Mexico has been discussed less, even though 15 teams are within a four-hour flight of Mexico City. Based on demographics and population density, FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver estimated that only six NFL cities have more fans than Mexico City does -- New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas and Houston.

But NFL fans alone, all 28 million of them in Mexico and an estimated 1.49 million in Mexico City, don't make up good enough business reasons to consider it for a relocation or expansion market.

It would be cheaper to run a team in Mexico City than in the U.S., but there would also be obstacles.

While the Monday Night Football game sold out in minutes, tickets could be had for face value of $27 at the lowest levels. Families have less disposable income than in many of NFL cities in the U.S.

Also, President-elect Donald Trump's foreign policy statements during the campaign focused on keeping jobs and manufacturing in the U.S., and specifically called out the North American Free Trade Agreement that eliminated many barriers to trade between the U.S. and Mexico. If he follows through, it could strain relations between the U.S. and Mexico.

While it's clear Mexico City will not have a permanent team in the next four years, the question remains whether what the league is doing can be damaged by the political environment as Trump takes over.

"The big question is whether people in Mexico feel comfortable to continue to support an American product like the NFL," said Chris Rivers of Panjiva, a global trade data company. "If Donald Trump doesn't like Mexico, do Mexicans like America?"

The complexities of going outside the U.S. are vast, but the rewards are also great. The NFL might be the No. 1 league in the U.S. by a wide margin, but as the world gets smaller, the benefits of being more global like the NBA are even greater.

Heading back to Mexico and adding to the hype by putting it on Monday Night Football is a start.