LOS ANGELES (AP) — The NFL moved the Rams’ Monday night showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs from Mexico City to Los Angeles on Tuesday due to the poor condition of the field at Azteca Stadium.
The league announced the extraordinary decision six days before one of the most-anticipated regular-season games of the year.
In a news release, the league said it determined that the recently re-sodded field at Mexico City’s historic stadium “does not meet NFL standards for playability and consistency, and will not meet those standards by next Monday.”
The Rams (9-1) will host the Chiefs (9-1) at the Coliseum instead. The much-anticipated game is just the fifth meeting since 1970 between teams with one or fewer losses in Week 11 or later.
The decision creates a morass of logistical concerns for the teams and for fans traveling to Mexico, and it disappoints thousands of fans eager to see a marquee matchup in North America’s most populous city. But the league consulted with the players’ association and local officials before deciding it couldn’t risk the players’ health on a damaged field.
“The combination of a difficult rainy season and a heavy multi-event calendar of events at the stadium have resulted in significant damage to the field that presents unnecessary risks to player safety and makes it unsuitable to host an NFL game,” said Mark Waller, the NFL’s executive vice president of international. “As a result, we have determined that moving the game is the right decision, and one that we needed to announce now in order to allow our teams and fans to make alternate arrangements.”
Azteca officials changed the playing surface from natural grass to a hybrid in May, but the turf hasn’t been ideal for several months. Concern about the field grew in recent days when aerial photos of the stadium showed serious damage to the grass, particularly on the end of the stadium recently used for a major concert.
Cruz Azul, the Liga MX soccer club that shares the stadium with Club America, played a tournament game on the field last Saturday in noticeably poor conditions. Coach Pedro Caixinha expressed concern, and the NFL continued working with groundskeepers to improve the field.
The Rams are required to keep the Coliseum available as a backup in case of a problem with international games. They immediately announced plans for ticket sales starting Wednesday, with season ticket holders allowed to buy their own seats and up to four more.
The Rams also will give away thousands of seats to first responders and people affected by recent tragedies in Southern California. Deadly wildfires have ravaged several areas near the Rams’ training complex in Thousand Oaks for the past week, and 12 people were killed in a mass shooting in Thousand Oaks last Wednesday night.
Azteca hosted the first regular-season game ever held outside the U.S. in 2005 when Arizona beat San Francisco. The stadium has hosted several NFL exhibitions, and the Oakland Raiders, Houston Texans and New England Patriots all played regular-season games there over the past two seasons.
The Rams played in England in each of the previous two seasons. Both the Rams and the Chiefs were due to play in Mexico for the first time next week.
The Rams traveled to Colorado Springs on Monday, intending to spend their week of practice in high altitudes to prepare for Mexico City’s conditions. The team currently intends to stay in Colorado Springs before flying home on the weekend.