Can the NFL crack the Chinese market?

Can a game with so many intricate rules appeal to the Chinese market?

September 26, 2006 03:58
3 minute read.
Can the NFL crack the Chinese market?

nfl beat 88. (photo credit: )


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It wasn't your usual NFL halftime. Fireworks, Chinese dances, and Beijing Olympic mascots were on display during half-time as the New England Patriots squared off against the Denver Broncos on nationally-televised Sunday night football. The festivities coincided with the NFL announcing that the Patriots will play the Seattle Seahawks in China during next year's preseason. Can a game with so many intricate rules appeal to the Chinese market? The NFL seems to think so and has partnered with Chinese company Zou Marketing to train coaches, develop young teams, and promote the NFL. Nonetheless, there are still difficulties. "The biggest obstacle is making Chinese people understand the rules to the game," said Lin Li, a Chinese NFL marketing observer. "You need people that can speak Chinese in order to explain the game. Basketball is an extremely popular game in China because it is easy to understand." The NFL got a little help with that task when former Philadelphia Eagles tight end Chad Lewis, who is fluent in Chinese, visited China in 2002. But that's not the only way that football is growing in China. While their American counterparts play tackle football, the NFL is trying to develop that same football culture in Chinese high schools. As part of their partnership with Zou marketing, the NFL has sponsored flag football teams in high schools throughout the country. The hope is that flag football will pave the way to the rougher and tumbler world of tackle football. "Every year there is a final competition among the best high school teams in either Shanghai or Beijing," said Li. There is also an annual international flag football tournament, which for the most part is played in China, usually between ten teams. Thailand has won for the past two years. China has recruited a lot of its talent from soccer, which many argue requires a similar skill set. "If someone can kick the ball far in soccer they make him into a kicker," said Li. To recruit more players, the NFL will need to both sell quality NFL merchandise and develop the video game product. NFL jerseys should start selling in China soon and there has also been talk of Madden, which is possibly the most popular video game in America, premiering in China. "Zou marketing is also involved in the production of video games and there is certainly talk of them doing a demo with NFL video games," said Li. "Basketball video games are already very popular in China." Football has a long way to go before it approaches basketball in popularity in China, but there is certainly a lot of optimism in NFL circles about the project. "It has been slow process," said Li. "But down the road it could definitely succeed." Is the Middle East next? NFL players seem to like the idea of playing in foreign markets. Asked about playing in China, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady responded, "It will be cool. I like traveling so it will be fun."

Who's Hot?

1.Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who is 5-1 against the Patriots in his last six games and seems to be the only NFL coach who makes Patriots coach Bill Belichick not look like a genius. 2.The Broncos defense, making Brady look like he was taking an astrophysics tests instead of quarterbacking a football team. 3.Peyton Manning, who not only led the Indianapolis Colts to victory on Sunday, but showed speed with a two-yard touchdown run. 4.Robbie Gould - the Jewish Chicago Bears kicker has not missed a field goal yet this season. 5.Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers - possibly the best group in the NFL. 6.Chicago Bears quarterback Rex Grossman, who showed the maturity of a top NFL quarterback leading a comeback win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

Who's Not

1.The Tennessee Titans and coach Jeff Fisher. Since the end of 2003, the Titans have a combined record of 9-26. If the Titans don't improve, it might cost Fisher his job at season's end. 2.The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, off to an 0-3 start and now without starting quarterback Chris Simms for two months. 3.Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who had his second straight field goal attempt blocked.

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