Sometimes life surprises you and this is one of those occasions. Football in China? It’s happening and the sport’s elite are soon to join the fray.
The NFL is planning to take a regular season game there in 2018, capitalizing on the groundwork being laid by the country’s first professional league – the China Arena Football League (CAFL) with six teams – and the 14-city American Football League of China (AFLC) for amateurs.
Having struggled to get off the ground, the Chinese are embracing the charm offensive from U.S. business and athletes. Peyton Manning was just one who participated, running a clinic for young players this summer. He was struck by the enthusiasm of the players and the parents, suggesting that fears over injuries were overstated.
The gambling culture is ingrained in the Far East and with the variety of bets to be placed on football matches, this guide on understanding NFL point spreads is bound to become required reading in the Far East.
Whilst the NFL was slow to start exploiting this market, they may be surprised to find it embraced enthusiastically. The Chinese are, according to CNN Money gambling seven times more per year in Macau alone than everyone does in Las Vegas.
This is football’s strength. It isn’t reliant solely upon physical strength but mental fortitude and strategies; it’s the ultimate sporting battle, the multitude of variables lending itself to the adversarial arena. That appeals to the betting markets so whilst the young appreciate the game, the older generations find fulfilment in the periphery.
Concerns have been raised in the past that Chinese fans would find the rules overly complex but observers are not convinced that there are substance to these fears. Indeed, finding the NFL equivalent of Yao Ming, the former Houston Rockets center, may be the impetus that the sport needs to gain a strong footing in China.
The younger generation are the key. If they embrace the game, it stands a strong chance of succeeding in the way other sports such as soccer and basketball have found their niches. Rugby Union, so often seen as competition, has welcomed the prospect of football crossing into this part of Asia.
Tellingly, parents are recognising the importance of this aspect of football’s plans. Previous generations had straightforward sports such as badminton and table tennis to enjoy and the Chinese became past masters at them.
Can they do the same with football? You can’t rule it out.