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The NFL’s Biggest Game of the Season Moves From Mexico City to Los Angeles

The highly anticipated matchup between the Rams and Chiefs will change venues after the playing surface at Estadio Azteca was deemed unsuitable. While it’s a bad look for the NFL’s international expansion efforts, it’s a win for common sense.

General view of Estadio Azteca during an NFL International Series game  Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The most anticipated game of the NFL season is coming back to the United States. The Kansas City Chiefs vs. the Los Angeles Rams—a Monday Night Football matchup between the league’s two best teams—has been moved from Mexico City to Los Angeles because of poor field conditions. The decision was made to play the game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum after the field at Estadio Azteca looked like a hot mess.

In a statement, the NFL said, “The decision is based on the determination—in consultation with the NFLPA and following a meeting and field inspection this afternoon by NFL and club field experts as well as local and independent outside experts—that the playing field at Estadio Azteca does not meet NFL standards for playability and consistency and will not meet those standards by next Monday.”

Here are four observations following the league’s decision to move the year’s biggest game.

The NFL Got It Right

The decision to move the game was a no-brainer, but the NFL has messed up no-brainers before, so perhaps this is progress. Nobody wants players to get hurt in bad field conditions (just ask Robert Griffin III), and even if the field was salvageable, any injuries that happened to either side would inevitably be blamed on the NFL and Roger Goodell. Considering both squads are Super Bowl favorites, moving the game to L.A. was PR 101. The league has a stipulation that the designated home team in games played away from the home stadium (like the London games) must keep its stadium free on the date in question as a contingency plan. That foresight finally came to fruition this week.

… Because the Players Forced Its Hand

Let’s not give the league too much credit. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier today that the league was aware the field was a concern but was determined to play the game in Mexico City. On Tuesday afternoon, multiple players from both teams told Schefter they were considering not playing in the game.

Less than 90 minutes after Schefter’s report, news broke that the league was moving the game. The NFL excels at antagonizing its own players, so it would be refreshing if it took players’ concerns about their health into consideration while making the decision.

The Rams Will Wait to Return to L.A.

Mexico City is more than 7,000 feet above sea level, 2,000 higher than Denver is. To prepare to play at that altitude, the Rams spent this week training in Colorado Springs. (Both the Chiefs and Rams requested to play at Denver in Week 10, but both requests were denied by the league.) Even with the location change, the Rams will remain in Colorado to practice until Saturday, according to Schefter. The Rams had to cancel practice at their facility in Thousand Oaks last week due to the wildfires that have ravaged Southern California, and at least 100 employees had to be evacuated from their homes in the middle of the night. The NFL has been monitoring air quality for games in San Francisco and Los Angeles, but the fires are closer to the Rams’ facility than the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. The Rams will reportedly be giving out thousands of tickets to first responders and people affected by the fires.

NFL International Will Play On

The NFL will reimburse fans who bought tickets for the Mexico match, and those who still want to attend the game can reportedly exchange their tickets for the same seat in L.A. (That plan doesn’t exactly help fans who paid for flights to Mexico City.) The league’s international series has been playing a game a year in Mexico’s capital since 2016, and although the NFL has agreements to play in Mexico City through 2021, matching the hype around Rams-Chiefs will be nearly impossible. This is undoubtedly a setback for the NFL’s international expansion efforts, but it’s unlikely to deter it from pursuing similar games in the future.