NFL poised to break into Chinese market

The New England Patriots' star quarterback Tom Brady meets young, upstart quarterback from the Los Angeles Rams Jared Goff for chance at glory in Super Bowl LIII.

ATLANTA • The National Football League (NFL) will mark the end of an era when it celebrates its 100th season this year and could look to the future by playing a first game in China, with commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday labelling the country a "priority market".

Like every other major North American sports league, the NFL is looking to carve out a slice of the country's sports pie.

The National Basketball Association, after decades of nurturing, has seen China become its biggest foreign market, while the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball have also established footholds there.

While the NFL is late to the party, it is ready to push into the marketplace of 1.3 billion people.

During his annual "state of league address" ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams, Goodell said: "I hope some time in the next couple of months, we are going to have some very exciting announcements.

"We believe that our game has a great deal of potential to expand and bring new fans into our game. We have had double-digit growth this past year in China in our fan base and people engaging with our game. We're excited by it."

Although the NFL has made several aborted attempts to get a "China Bowl" off the ground, with failed plans to stage an exhibition game in Beijing in 2007 and 2009, it has continued to lay the groundwork for a move into the world's most populous country.

Last December, the NFL announced a digital partnership with Youku, Alibaba Group's video entertainment platform, to bring programming to local fans.

The Patriots' five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback, Tom Brady, also travelled to Beijing to wave the NFL flag, paying a promotional visit to the Great Wall in 2017.

With the SportsBusiness Journal reporting the NFL is planning to organise a game in China as part of its 100th anniversary celebrations, the 41-year-old, who has expressed his desire to perform in front of a Chinese crowd before he hangs up his cleats, might get that chance.

In Europe, meanwhile, the NFL is going from strength to strength. It has already announced four regular-season games will take place in London this year, with two at Wembley and two at Tottenham Hotspur's new ground.

But Goodell tempered expectations that London was set to be awarded its own NFL franchise, despite having the requisite stadium, infrastructure and passionate fans.

He added: "The issue for us still is can we do this competitively for the team that is based in London and the other 31 clubs.

"That involves scheduling and other matters you don't want to compromise and until we get comfortable, I don't think we will be NFL-ready in London."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2019, with the headline 'NFL poised to break into Chinese market'. Print Edition | Subscribe