Sport

Fourth down in China

Can American Football follow in the NBA’s successful footsteps?

“This one’s going all the way to China”: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady

They are amongst the most famous four words ever uttered by a wide receiver.
Almost everyone remembers Rod Tidwell’s declamation: “Show ME the money!”
Okay, he wasn’t a real American footballer. He was a fictional character in the movie Jerry McGuire. But Tidwell’s sentiments are definitely shared by NFL executives looking enviously at the success of the NBA in China. Their goal is to replicate basketball’s success.
Gridiron has a lot going for it. There’s the excitement of the Hail Mary pass soaring 40 yards through the air; the adrenaline rush of clashing hulks bashing into one another; and if that weren’t enough, there are the peppy cheerleaders with the gyrating midriffs.
How could China’s collective 2.6 billion eyeballs resist all that?
Thus far, they mostly have. While interest in the NBA is on-the-up, American football’s command of local television audiences has been tiny.
It doesn’t help that, unlike the NBA, there are no high profile Chinese players in the league. Nor that CCTV and local provincial television networks have hitherto been less-than-excited about showing matches.
Plus the National Football League (NFL) has made a few fumbles of its own in its marketing efforts – it has twice cancelled exhibition matches designed to whet local interest.
Having concocted the idea of a ‘China Bowl’ in 2007 – between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks – the game was postponed till last August. Then it was shelved again, and to make matters worse the Patriots closed down its operation in China. They had been the only team to have an on-the-ground marketing presence in the country.
A case of not being able to make enough ‘first downs’? In fact, it almost reads like a Hollywood script: it’s the fourth quarter, with a seemingly impossible scoreline, and thecoach tossing his clipboard in exasperation as yet another of his plays gets intercepted. But like in all those American football flicks, there’s still hope. The injured star quarterback makes a medically improbable recovery and asks to rejoin the line of scrimmage. Maybe we can win this thing after all, says the concussed running back. And against all odds…
Such would seem to be the never-say-die spirit of the NFL’s Chris Parsons, the man who runs the league’s international operations. He was recently back in China to announce the NFL’s new strategic push. The China Bowl is back on the agenda, now scheduled for the summer of 2011. Parsons is  weighing up whether to play the game in Shanghai or at the Bird’s Nest in Beijing.
In Beijing, the NFL would have to fill a stadium of 91,000. “Obviously the Bird’s Nest is a fabulous stadium,” Parsons told the China Daily. “The NFL likes to play games at the best places. The reason we play a game in China is to bring the entertainment of American football to the Chinese people firsthand. You do that not only to please the fans that we have, but also to make new ones.”
Parsons also had a couple of other initiatives to stoke interest while fans wait for the 2011 game. Popular local portal QQ.com has signed up to broadcast matches live every Monday morning. And CCTV (in conjunction with sports management firm, IMG) is producing a new programme called NFL Blitz. The 16 episode TV show features Chinese celebrities going to the US to learn about the game.
The NFL estimates that 2.2 million Chinese will watch the Superbowl early next month. However, Parsons reckons there are only 1.5 million “avid” Chinese fans of the sport. That may sound a reasonable number, but to put it in perspective, the NBA has 450 million fans in China, reports the New York Times.

They are amongst the most famous four words ever uttered by a wide receiver.

Almost everyone remembers Rod Tidwell’s declamation: “Show ME the money!”

Okay, he wasn’t a real American footballer. He was a fictional character in the movie Jerry Maguire. But Tidwell’s sentiments are definitely shared by NFL executives looking enviously at the success of the NBA in China. Their goal is to replicate basketball’s success.

Gridiron has a lot going for it. There’s the excitement of the Hail Mary pass soaring 40 yards through the air; the adrenaline rush of clashing hulks bashing into one another; and if that weren’t enough, there are the peppy cheerleaders with the gyrating midriffs.

How could China’s collective 2.6 billion eyeballs resist all that?

Thus far, they mostly have. While interest in the NBA is on-the-up, American football’s command of local television audiences has been tiny.

It doesn’t help that, unlike the NBA, there are no high profile Chinese players in the league. Nor that CCTV and local provincial television networks have hitherto been less-than-excited about showing matches.

Plus the National Football League (NFL) has made a few fumbles of its own in its marketing efforts – it has twice cancelled exhibition matches designed to whet local interest.

Having concocted the idea of a ‘China Bowl’ in 2007 – between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks – the game was postponed till last August. Then it was shelved again, and to make matters worse the Patriots closed down its operation in China. They had been the only team to have an on-the-ground marketing presence in the country.

A case of not being able to make enough ‘first downs’? In fact, it almost reads like a Hollywood script: it’s the fourth quarter, with a seemingly impossible scoreline, and thecoach tossing his clipboard in exasperation as yet another of his plays gets intercepted. But like in all those American football flicks, there’s still hope. The injured star quarterback makes a medically improbable recovery and asks to rejoin the line of scrimmage. Maybe we can win this thing after all, says the concussed running back. And against all odds…

Such would seem to be the never-say-die spirit of the NFL’s Chris Parsons, the man who runs the league’s international operations. He was recently back in China to announce the NFL’s new strategic push. The China Bowl is back on the agenda, now scheduled for the summer of 2011. Parsons is weighing up whether to play the game in Shanghai or at the Bird’s Nest in Beijing.

In Beijing, the NFL would have to fill a stadium of 91,000. “Obviously the Bird’s Nest is a fabulous stadium,” Parsons told the China Daily. “The NFL likes to play games at the best places. The reason we play a game in China is to bring the entertainment of American football to the Chinese people firsthand. You do that not only to please the fans that we have, but also to make new ones.”

Parsons also had a couple of other initiatives to stoke interest while fans wait for the 2011 game. Popular local portal QQ.com has signed up to broadcast matches live every Monday morning. And CCTV (in conjunction with sports management firm, IMG) is producing a new programme called NFL Blitz. The 16 episode TV show features Chinese celebrities going to the US to learn about the game.

The NFL estimates that 2.2 million Chinese will watch the Superbowl early next month. However, Parsons reckons there are only 1.5 million “avid” Chinese fans of the sport. That may sound a reasonable number, but to put it in perspective, the NBA has 450 million fans in China, reports the New York Times.


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