Is China ready for some NFL football?

Updated: 2014-09-22 12:43

By Zheng Xin in Beijing(China Daily USA)

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China might not be the market that most sports fans associate with American football, but theNational Football League,one of America's most lucrative and best-run businesses, has been trying to change the perception by taking the game to China.

Encouraged by the rapid growth of football in China, the NFL has brought a mobile NFL experience to China, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, after its successful debut last year.

The NFL on Tour is part of the return of NFL Home Field back to 13 cities across China, according to NFL China, the league's fifth international office which was established in Beijing in 2007.

"We are really excited about the rapid growth of the popularity of American football in China," said Richard Young, managing director of NFL China, who believes American football is more than just a passing fancy in China.

"Whether it's online, or through a broadcast deal on 19 channels across China, it's clear the NFL is taking the Chinese market seriously," he said.

According to Young, the NFL's fan base has grown over 462 percent in the last 4 years reaching 14 million people in China and this growth is expected to continue into the foreseeable future.

"Percentage wide it's still a small figure for a country like China, but still we got 14 million people," he said.

To better cater to the increasing demand of the Chinese audiences, NFL games will be aired across more than 20 regional channels this year, reaching more than 96 million unique viewers and five nationwide online broadcasters including PPTV, LeTV, iQiyi, Sina Sports and QQ Sports, as well as NFL Game Pass, he said.

Young also mentioned the NFL has categorized the country as one of the sport's five top priority markets, and their goal is to become one of the top 20 sports in China by 2020.

In order to reach that target, Young said their on-air strategy so far has been to get to as many people as possible.

"We are now mainly focusing on 19 first-tier cities in China to begin with the promotion of the sport, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, all of which are comparatively more international," he said.

"Events like the NFL on Tour help more of the young people fall in love with the game, through the exclusive on-site interactive games, on-field clinics, interactive skill challenges, and NFL China pop-up shop featuring official team gear," he said.

Promoting a non-Olympic sport, especially in a country with a small fan base is no easy task. However, Young said he is very optimistic about American football's prospects in the country.

"We started to run events on the ground in Beijing in 2011, and the league has seen a 400 percent year-on-year increase in online viewing with its followers on Sina Weibo increasing from 50,000 to 170,000," he said.

"The popularity is because it's a good sport, and it doesn't matter where the sports come from or where the culture comes from, it just matters that it's a quality product," he said.

"There are always cultural differences but over time the difference is not a divide," he said.

No one estimated that a country dominated by tea 20 years ago would become Starbucks' largest market, and the same thing will work for American football, said Young.

We believe we have the best sport in the world, and we do realize the obstacles due to the fact that we don't have country versus country games and we are not included as part of the Olympics, Young told China Daily.

"We do believe there are openings here in China," he said. 

 Is China ready for some NFL football?

The NFL on Tour is held in Beijing Normal University in Beijing on Sept 21. Encouraged by the rapid growth of football in China, the NFL has brought a mobile NFL experience to China, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, after its successful debut last year. Wei Xiaohao / China Daily

(China Daily USA 09/22/2014 page3)