Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback, termed the experience as one of the best highlights of his life. After visiting China as part of an Under Armour promotion trip in 2017, Brady was eager to approach the Patriots owner Robert Kraft to inform him about the growing interest in American Football out there.
China has a population of 1.5 billion and a per capita GDP of $8,800, making it one of the most attractive countries for the NFL. Last season alone, the NFL generated approximately $15 billion and is set to reach $25 billion by 2027 as it tries to grow the game further.
According to the former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski, who is also an investor in the CAFL (China Arena Football League), China is a great market for American Football.
Soccer is the leading sport in China, followed by basketball, and then football ranks somewhere in the hierarchy of top 10 sports. It is believed that the origin of the sports dates back to 1908 when US Navy sailors who had visited played in Xiamen.
NFL opened its official office in China in 2008. That happened one year after its first season in England.
Although Sky Sports broadcasts live NFL games to the audience in London from six in the evening to midnight, the time difference in China presents another challenge. For instance, Sunday night games are televised on Monday morning through video streaming and mobile devices as part of the exclusive live digital agreement of NFL with Tencent, which is China’s large streaming platform.
Over 90% of Chinese viewers watch football matches and most of them talk about the games on chat groups. According to the managing director of NFL China, it is a different consumption experience.
Despite all those challenges, viewers in China are still watching and enjoying the game. In the past year, live game digital viewership reached 72%, and it is reported that there were over 709 million video views of non-live American Football digital content in the 2018 season.
Super Bowl Lill was broadcasted on the morning of the New Year’s Eve in China and had a live audience of over 8 million in mainland China.
It is no surprise that Super Bowl Lill has high ratings considering the fact that the Patriots are the most popular American Football team in China.
There has been tremendous growth within a very short time. Chinese are not only watching American football but also playing it, and very soon, Chinese Football matches will be featured on online sports betting websites.
In 2014, only 36 teams in three Chinese cities took part in the NFL flag tournament, and in 2018, the teams increased to over 300.
Out of the 34 provinces in China, 30 have at least one youth training program or senior football team and over 3,000 adults play on 76 recreation league tackle teams, which represent a massive increase from 8 teams and 400 players who played five years ago.
The American Football League of China (AFLC) All-Stars, a team made of several clubs, played against the University of Pennsylvania in the Global Ambassadors Bowl in March.
The coaches of the two teams met a few days before the match, which happened in Shanghai.
Penn was the first Ivy League team and beat the All-Stars 85-0, but Ray Priore, the Penn head coach, said the Chinese team ad players who were good enough to play in his team.
Football expected to be a leading sport in China in the next decade, and it is believed that in 2007 the NFL wanted to hold a preseason game between Seattle Seahawks and Patriots in China and the Los Angeles Rams almost played a 2018 season game again San Francisco 49ers in China.