Diary of a Producer: Follow the journey of AFI’s Allan Price on his football adventure in China

Day 1 – Saturday September 10th

5:15am – I haven’t found it this easy to get up so early in a long time. Watching the sun rise from the rim of my coffee mug in my living room, next to my bags, waiting to set off on the first leg of the tour. My first flight of the China Arena Football League season leaves in a couple of hours, but we’re now exactly 3 weeks from launching, with 5 years of development fuelling us…

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Since my decision to move to China over a year ago, my aim has been to continue to have football in my life, however possible. Following 4 years of developing the UK show Gridiron TV – breaking ground as the first ever nationally-based show to produce weekly studio episodes and regular live broadcasting of UK games across the country – my interest in football and media production had to come with me in my bags to China. Since arriving, I have been fortunate enough to work on projects for the NFL, and also with the local AFLC league.

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Filming the NFL Legends tour with Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor & Ryan Clarke

On my last full day in the UK before moving (and one of the last email sent before packing up my computer), I made first contact with the China Arena Football League (CAFL).

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Gridiron Leaders Foundion at training camp

What followed was a first meeting 2 weeks later in Shanghai with the President, Gary Morris, to offer my assistance. Since then, as the league has continued on its journey towards the reality of launching the first ever professional American football league in China, my role has been to attend several events to produce photo, video & written content – my way of auditioning for a future role in the league.

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Open tryouts – Beijing (left) & Shanghai (right)

Now, I am on my way to Beijing in the second wave of people to arrive at the first base camp, arriving at the same time as the Chinese athletes that will comprise 50% of the player base this year. Ahead of us, the CAFL operations team & staff that have been working since 2011 to introduce the sport to China, and to develop strong relations with the Chinese government, universities & sports bodies. Behind us, the US players & coaches – the other 50% – some of which are coming fresh off a season in the AFL, some maybe even wearing their championship rings (from the Philadelphia Soul).

As an assistant producer for the league’s media team (LT Media), I have been lucky to put myself right at the heart of the action, and for the next 8 weeks will be working to bring as much quality content as possible from the league to the world.

As the rest of the team is US-based, I have been trying to work as the eyes on the ground to support them, while they have been able to secure some major deals.

Major deals with Hupu Sports and iQIYI

This season, all 18 games will be live broadcast across China’s biggest platform for online video – iQIYI – which has a fan base of 20 million subscribers, while also securing a deal for online social and web media distribution with another Chinese giant – HUPU Sports. With only 1 chance for a first impression, we will have 2 great platforms to preach from.

In a move that is both media & fan friendly, the first year of the CAFL will see the 6 teams (Beijing Guardians, Dalian Sea Dragons, Qingdao Clipper, Guangzhou Power, Shenzhen Naja & Shanghai SkyWalkers) travel together from city to city to play the 6-week season. 3 games per weekend in each host city promises an intense atmosphere for stadium fans, and a full weekend schedule of watching online for fans across the world.

Not to mention the additional midweek magazine show, interviews, highlights, articles & photos that our production team will be churning out constantly. With 200+ people in convoy, it will be quite the circus rolling into town every Monday.

This also presents an ideal opportunity for me to discover a big part of China – travelling over 4,700 miles to 6 major cities with very diverse personalities and with players/coaches from every corner of the nation sharing their own views of China – something that I have not yet been able to do.

Uncertainty still lies ahead

What lies ahead is still an uncertainty for all, but with years of time spent in China already – from the initial coaching & classroom sessions of 2011, to the inaugural university league competition & national championship in 2015, to the live player draft this year, the roots of the CAFL have been firmly set here, and all share the goal of making sure that the first year sets the tone for football in a country that is waking up to the sports & fitness industries with a huge appetite for it.

As I type this article, behind it sits my laptop background that reminds me every day of what is needed for anyone forging at the pioneering end of something – and a phrase that I have been carrying since the day I boarded that first plane into the unknown:

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Allan Price
Allan was the Presenter and Co-Producer of Gridiron TV for 4 years, and also spent 10 years playing football in the UK, both at university & adult level, with 107 combined games in his career (on offense, defense and special teams). Allan is now based in Shanghai and reporting on local & national football development
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