The Texans are just days away from re-introducing the fans in Mexico to a regular season NFL game for the first time in 11 years. When the league announced it would return to Mexico City with a primetime matchup between Houston and the Oakland Raiders, the world may have been surprised, but some in the Texans organization were not. They had put in a lot of groundwork and effort into making a game in Mexico City a reality.
A Passion for NFL Football
It had been a long-term goal of the Houston Texans organization to partner with Mexico. Last fall, when President Jamey Rootes took a trip to Mexico City on a trade mission, the opportunity presented itself.
Rootes met with the mayor of Mexico City along with a room full of city and business leaders from both Houston and Mexico City to discuss important topics such as: health care, energy, social issues, etc. As the chair of the Greater Houston Partnership, Rootes was part of the delegation, but still unsure how football fit into the picture.
"We were meeting with the Minister of Energy first, and going to all these different groups, and then we were going to end with the mayor of Mexico City at the end of the day," Rootes said. "I was like, gosh, what do they want to talk to me about? So we started the meetings, the first one, and the Minister of Energy was talking about very substantive issues and then introductions happened. 'Jamey Rootes, he's the president of the Houston Texans.' Everyone wanted to tell me who their favorite team was, their favorite memory, and that they loved the NFL."
Not just the NFL, the mayor of Mexico City was a long-time Houston Oilers fan too. Rootes recalls his surprise when the mayor began singing the Oilers fight song in their meeting. They reminisced about the last NFL game to be played in their city, back in 2005 between the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers. The mayor and the contingent from Mexico City passionately expressed their desire for the NFL to return to their city.
"That's when we got into rather than monitoring the situation to expressing our strong, sincere interest in participating in a game in Mexico City," Rootes said. "I came back to Bob (McNair) and I said to him, 'Look. I think this might happen next year.' So Bob wrote a letter to the NFL commissioner and expressed our very strong desire to be the team, if it happens, that we would like to participate."
For McNair and Rootes, the interest began years ago. McNair had been interested in having a Texans game in Mexico since the launch of the organization, Rootes says. While the NFL expanded into London, the Texans cultivated a partnership with Mexico, knowing that a trip there would be the most meaningful for Houston's community and fan base and it would come to fruition one day. They just didn't know when.
Houston in the Spotlight*With long-awaited game just days away, the Texans and city of Houston prepare for an even bigger opportunity. Rootes, along Mayor Sylvester Turner, the Super Bowl 51 host committee, city and business leaders, will be part of a Houston delegation that will be spending three days in Mexico City to recognize and cultivate the partnerships they have formed over the past year.
"The events we are having over the Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, the three days, there are going to be a number of interactions with officials in Mexico City that are going to be wonderful opportunities to build these relationships, and facilitate opportunities between the two cities," Rootes said. "Our No. 1 export partner is Mexico for Houston. Mexico is in this process of unprecedented opening of their development of their energy reserves and Houston is the energy capital of the world. So, Houston should be first in line. What great timing for us to be bringing this game and using the game to do great things for Houston. We are using sports as a platform to do great things for our community, but that's not new to us."
Along with benefitting the economy, the Houston delegation hopes to show the world what their city has to offer. Houston has undergone a renaissance, Rootes says, but the perception has not caught up to the reality. With the entire world watching, he hopes the Monday Night game and Houston's Super Bowl 51 help shatter those perceptions.
"When someone tells you about it, when you see an advertisement, that doesn't compare to a first-hand account of what a community is all about," Rootes said. "Houston is the next great global city. Super Bowl is the time to tell the world about it and this trip to Mexico is part of that development effort.
What's Next?When asked what's next on the horizon for the Texans organizations, Rootes aptly quotes author Ayn Rand.
"The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity."
The Texans are playing a longer game with relationships to last more than just for the duration of the 2016 season, Rootes explains. The groundwork has been set for a partnership and creating a fan base that lasts much longer, maybe even the next 25 years and beyond.
"This is an opportunity," Rootes said. "Right now, my focus on is Mexico City. This trip. This game. Do this as well as we possibly can, and how well we do that will define what our next opportunities are. So, I'm not exactly sure. I do know that over the last nine months, we've built bridges, relationship bridges, with Mexico that are a value to us and are a value to our community that we can walk back and forth over for the foreseeable future."
The Texans and the Raider will kick off on Monday night at 7:30 p.m. from Estadio Azteca. The game will be televised on ESPN and ESPN International will carry the game across 61 countries and territories in Spanish-speaking Latin America, Brazil, the Caribbean, Canada and Australia/New Zealand/Pacific Islands.
OLB Whitney Mercilus had a whirlwind Friday in Mexico City. He appeared on ESPN Deportes and took a tour of the city's landmarks with Televisa.