Going global: Chiefs eager to finally return to Mexico ... and make inroads into China

Clark Hunt always expected the Chiefs to play in Mexico City again, but he didn’t think it would happen just a year after sub-optimal field conditions forced a last-minute venue change to Los Angeles.

Nevertheless, the Chiefs’ CEO and chairman is pleased the organization will get the opportunity to play at Estadio Azteca against the Chargers in the upcoming season.

The Chiefs’ other excursion into Mexico came in 1990 against the Rams. They’ve also previously played a couple of times in Tokyo and once in England.

“That was not something I anticipated because I knew the teams that would be available, in the rotation to play there (in Mexico),” Hunt said at league meetings in Arizona. “I was surprised that the Chargers were OK with playing a Divisional opponent there.

“We’re certainly excited about it and were looking forward to it last year. I know a lot of our fans were looking forward to it and hopefully they’ll come down there and cheer us on to victory.”

As would’ve been the case in last year’s scheduled game against the Rams, the Chiefs will be the visiting team and won’t have to give up a home game for the international tilt.

Not only was last year’s last-minute venue change chaotic for fans trying to get to the game, it was also costly for the league.

“It was a significant financial loss for the league,” Hunt said. “The league helped support all of those international games and there was a lot of money that was spent that was not going to be recouped by moving the game to Los Angeles that had a negative outcome. I am glad that not only is the NFL going back this year, but the fact that the Chiefs get to go back.”

Chiefs president Mark Donovan said the Chiefs will benefit from going into a more stable environment for the 2019 game than they may have encountered at last year’s event.

“I’d say there’s a little sort of tangible benefit that we’re going in last year right after the new government came into power, which (raised) a lot of questions,” Donovan said. “How would they deal? What’s the situation? How would that first event be? So there’s a benefit there that we’ve got a full year.

“Everybody talked about the field, but there were other things going on there at the same time. So I think all of that being more stable and situated (is a positive).”

And Mexico City may not be the Chiefs’ last international game. The NFL is ramping up efforts to expand the game to China, and the Chiefs didn’t rule out playing a game there in the future.

“Yeah, definitely,” Donovan said. “We saw measurable benefits for our organization, for our business, for our fan base going to London (in 2015). We think the same thing is going to happen in Mexico City, and China is ‘choose your exponential.’ It’s so broad, big, everything else. ... We can get our brand out there sooner, a bit of an advantage ahead of other clubs ... we think that’s a plus.”

Thanks to Patrick Mahomes and the cast of social-media friendly players around him, the Chiefs are already establishing a footprint in China. Mahomes’ highlights combined with his personality and Internet presence are helping introduce potential fans to the Kansas City franchise, and to other players in the organization.

Last season, a clip of Travis Kelce made its way to Weibo, China’s state-run social media platform. From there, the Chiefs saw an explosion of interest in their team from Chinese fans.

“A lot of traffic was around an emoji that had nothing to do with Patrick,” Donovan said. “Patrick got us in the door and then this emoji really took off, which was I think it was a Kelce highlight that they animated. That’s kind of growth you can tangibly go with.

“(Mahomes) is definitely a part of it. The plays that are being made, the highlights that are really driving it are Tyreek (Hill) and Kelce and you go down the list. And Chris Jones, his personality, it resonates world wide.”

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Brooke Pryor covers the Kansas City Chiefs for the Kansas City Star, where she works to give readers a deeper understanding of the franchise and the NFL through daily stories, game coverage, and player profiles. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C.