American Football in Asia

Many people believe that American football is only popular in North America, but over the last decade the sport has become increasingly popular in the Asian market, with more and more countries introducing their own American football leagues, including an international tournament, the Asia-Pacific Football League, being founded in 2016.


The IFAF Asia, International Federation of American Football Asia, currently has 9 members, while the Asia-Pacific Football League, being played yearly, contains the winners from leagues in China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia. The current title holders are Seoul, South Korea.

These international games usually take place over 13 weeks, beginning 2 weeks after Labour Day, with the final games taking place the week before Christmas. Each team in the tournament will play each other once, making a total of 11 games per team. After the tournament, the APFL playoffs begin, pitting the top 4 teams together, this then finishes with the “Asian Bowl,” in which the champions of North and South divisions play each other. The Champion of Asia will then go on to play the Champion of Europe in the Eurasia Bowl.

Despite the growing success of the APFL and other national level leagues, the NFL remains the largest grossing American Football body in Asia. But this trend is changing fast, especially in China and Japan, where the hard contact of the sport is especially appealing in these countries where martial arts and fighting sports are so popular. There is big support of U.S teams with lots following the ผล บอล สด ไทย in the early hours of the morning to see how their teams are doing.

Japan and Football

While it’s easy to see that soccer is still massively more popular in Japan than American football, Japan is certainly becoming more open to the latter. Japan was the first country in Asia to start an American football league, the JAFA – Japanese American Football Association – which was founded in 1934! Today, JAFA hosts 3 different leagues at high school, college, and corporate levels (known as the XLeague) and contains over 390 teams!

Hugely popular in Japan was the Rice Bowl game, which took place on January 3rd every year and pitted the champions of the college leagues against the champions of the XLeague. However, sadly, JAFA have decided to discontinue this format, with the last game being held in January 2021; the Obic Seagulls vs Kwansei Gajuin University Fighters, in which the Seagulls easily defeated the University Fighters.

To replace this format, JAFA have opted to rename the event the Japan Championship Rice Bowl, and it will instead be the title-match at the end of the XLeague tournament.

It’s easy to understand why this format change has happened; it has been 12 years since a college team beat the XLeague champions, and none of the games since have even been close. Not only is such a handicapped game less exciting to watch, it also destroys morale for the less experienced college teams.


China is one of the few countries where their national league is more popular than the NFL. Founded in 2013, the Chinese National Football League (CNFL) has grown to harbour a huge following, and hosts well over 100 teams. Split into 4 divisions: North, East, South and West, the winning 3 teams from each division move into the playoffs, with the #1 team from each division earning a first round bye.

The current champions of the CNFL are the Hangzou Smilodons, who earned their first title since joining the league in 2017, with an incredible 33-24 win over the Chengdu Pandaman on February 15th.

CNFL games are highly publicised in China, with regular coverage in most provincial and national newspapers and news channels. This is adding more hype to the growing trend in China, so much so that the Super Bowl, despite taking place in the morning (due to the time difference) of the Chinese New Year, had over 8 million viewers in China.

Other Countries and the Future

South Korea has been trying heavily to bring American Football to the forefront of their sports, however their league, the Korean American Football Association, has failed to garner a large following. The last tournament held in Korea was in 2017. Despite this, South Korea features prominently internationally, being the current title holders of the APFL. Other countries in the region have also tried, unsuccessfully, to create football leagues.

So it looks like American football still has a long way to go to earn a place in the sporting worlds of most Asian countries, many of whom are still soccer fanatics. But with China, arguably the most influential country in the region, garnering a larger and larger following every year, we could be not far away from such a revolution happening in neighbouring countries.

American Football International is your source for news and updates about American Football outside the United States!