Will the NBA go to Mexico? American sports leagues experiment with games abroad

The big American sports leagues are creeping into international markets

Today's expression: A matter of time
December 31, 2018:

Basketball in Mexico; American baseball in Japan; football in London: the American professional sports leagues are making a push to play a few showcase games in other markets each year. The leagues are trying to build international support for their brands, in part because their home markets are saturated. The NBA is openly speculating about putting a team in Mexico City. Learn the English phrase "a matter of time."

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The big American sports leagues are creeping into international markets

Welcome back to Plain English—the very last Plain English of 2018. Can you believe it? Today is Monday, December 31 and today’s episode is number 116. And, you guessed it, the transcript can be found at PlainEnglish.com/116. On today’s episode, we’ll talk about how American sports leagues are making a push into other countries. The NBA went to Mexico; the NFL has been to Mexico and often goes to London; baseball is getting in on the action. They’re going to Europe this year, and they play a few games in Mexico and even Japan. So we’ll talk about that, and why they’re doing it.

Like always we have an English expression that we review in more detail and today’s expression is “a matter of time.” A matter of time.

Before we get going, I want to say thank you to our partner, MosaLingua. They are a really exciting company that produces interactive practice for English learners. Actually language learners of all kinds—I’m using them for my Spanish. You can check out all they have to offer at PlainEnglish.com/learn.

And if you’d like to get in touch with us, it’s super easy. I’m Jeff and you can write to me at [email protected]. The producer is JR. You can find him at [email protected]. We both love hearing from you, so send us a note, let us know where you’re from and why you’re practicing English.


American sports branching out abroad

The Chicago Bulls are a shadow of their former selves. They had only won six out of 28 games so far in this season, but that didn’t stop their fans from coming out to see them play against the Orlando Magic—in Mexico. They played one of two NBA basketball games in Mexico this year, part of an increasing trend for American sports leagues to play a handful of showcase games abroad each year.

The Bulls, Los Toros as they say in Spanish, were the dominant team in the NBA in the 1990s, the era of Michael Jordan and six championships in a single decade. That, perhaps, is the reason why they are so popular in Mexico. About 18 percent of fans in Mexico like the Bulls best, followed by 20 percent who like the Lakers, another team with historical success.

And that might be why the NBA chose the Bulls, along with the Orlando Magic and the Utah Jazz, to play two games in the Mexican capital. Mexico has become a prime destination for American sports leagues looking to expand their horizons a little bit. Every week, over 16 million Mexicans watch basketball games or highlights, and the capital city has a population of over 20 million people. With wider availability of streaming and expanded TV contracts, the NBA has found a reliable and growing fan base abroad. That’s important as sports are competing with other forms of entertainment in their home markets. The NBA announced that even more basketball games will be available on television in Mexico in the coming year.

Basketball is not alone. The NFL, the league for American football, and Major League Baseball, have both staged games in Mexico in recent years. This year, MLB played a handful of games in Monterrey, a northern city not too far from Texas. They will be going back to play six games, two exhibition games and four regular-season games, in the Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey. Mexico City is going to get a brand-new baseball stadium for its hometown Diablos, and also as a showcase for baseball in the country. It’s almost a sure thing that American baseball will find its way to the Mexican capital after that stadium opens. Baseball also occasionally opens its season with a couple of games in Japan.

Now listen to this: American baseball is also coming to Europe this year. One of the biggest rivalries in American sports is the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox and those two teams will play two games in London this year. This is going to be interesting, since Europeans—with the exception maybe of the Dutch—don’t really follow baseball.

American football has been doing the same thing. For years, they’ve been playing a couple of games in London each year. The NFL has also played some games in Mexico, and the Buffalo Bills used to play in Toronto every so often.

Games abroad are not without their challenges. The NFL was supposed to play a game in Mexico City this year, but they canceled it at the last minute due to field conditions. The field had been used for multiple events in the previous weeks and just wasn’t in good enough condition for a professional football game; they had to move it to Los Angeles instead.

Another challenge is time zones. In American football, they play once a week, every week, and the teams have very specific weekly rituals. Flying to London can mess up a team’s schedule with jet lag.

That’s probably why the first foray outside the US and Canada will probably be Mexico. Many observers think it’s only a matter of time before the NBA locates a team in Mexico City. There are several advantages—the city is big enough, with about 20 million people, to support a team. And the market would not be just Mexico City: any team that locates there would instantly be Mexico’s national team, in a country of about 130 million people, including a growing middle class.

Sports teams are looking abroad for a couple of reasons. First, the market is saturated in the United States. The leagues have been around for a long time and they’ve reached most of the American fans they’re going to reach. In order to grow, they need to look abroad. The second reason is related—the leagues now have to compete with a lot of other forms of entertainment. Fewer and fewer people sit down to watch a full two- or three-hour game on television; they prefer to get clips on their phones or follow via fantasy sites. Expanding to new markets abroad is a good way to grow and stay relevant. Finally, the leagues want to expand their talent base. A lot of pro sports leagues, especially baseball and basketball, draw talent from a lot of other countries. The more popular their sports are, the more likely it is that the next generation of quality talent is developed.


I think a pro team in Mexico would be cool. As JR would say, “¡Viva México!” They’ve been talking about putting a NFL team in London, but I think that’s a long shot—the time zones are just too difficult to work with. I guess we’ll see, right?

Have you had a chance to check out MosaLingua yet? They’ve got all kinds of great online programs for language learners on their web site. One that I really like is a pronunciation course. I like that one because having good pronunciation is a key part to building your confidence. So if your new year’s resolution is to speak more confidently in English, then you should check out PlainEnglish.com/talk. The course is 30 days, and they guarantee your results—if you’re not happy after 30 days, then you get your money back. You can go at your own pace, even if you have just a few minutes at a time. You can get it all done in a month, and they teach you all kinds of great secrets. Read more at PlainEnglish.com/talk.

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Expression: A matter of time