NFL planning to raise profile of game in China

Updated: 2016-10-04 17:33

By EARLE GALE(China Daily UK)

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NFL planning to raise profile of game in China

Yang Hetong prepares to throw a football during Sunday's final of the One Pass to Fame tournament at Wembley Stadium in London. [Photo/China Daily]

Despite the US National Football League having never staged a gridiron game in China, interest in the sport there is growing.

Those who run the league want American Football to become a global phenomenon and have already established regular-season fixtures in the UK and Mexico. They would love to eventually take the quintessentially North American game to China.

There was plenty of Chinese interest in Sunday's game in the UK between the Indianapolis Colts and the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium, which the Jaguars won by 30 points to 27.

"It was so exciting to finally see this for real," said a fan who gave his name only as Huang, and who works in London and grew up in Changsha. "I loved the game and I really liked the half-time show."

He was referring to a competition that pitted four Chinese against one another in the final of a tournament called One Pass to Fame. The winner of the competition, which played out in front of 83,798 fans, was Yang Hetong, who won an all-expenses-paid trip to next year's Super Bowl 51 in Houston, Texas.

The four had to throw as many footballs as possible into a bin from 15 yards away. They had 90 seconds and a maximum of five chances.

"I am really thankful for the opportunity the NFL has given me to travel the world and see this sport and am grateful to my opponents. It is an honor to be here and I cannot wait for the Super Bowl in Houston," said Yang, a 22-year-old student and player with the amateur American Football team the Beijing Iron Brothers.

After winning the competition, he hugged his rivals and waved the Chinese flag to warm applause from the crowd.

More than 16,000 Chinese took part in heats in Beijing, Chongqing, Chengdu, Wuhan, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

The other three finalists were 20-year-old Cen Zile, a third-year student at South China University of Technology, Yu Yan, a 33-year-old engineer from Wuhan, and Hu Lingyi, a 32-year-old professor from Chengdu.

The competition was part of the NFL's campaign to raise interest in the game in China.

Mark Waller, executive vice-president of NFL International, said the league wants to spread around the world.

"Success in London has definitely given us the belief that, as you take games outside of the US, you really accelerate your fan growth, so for us the chance to move games around is definitely a core part of our strategy this year," Waller said.

It has already succeeded in increasing interest in the UK, which has hosted competitive NFL games for 10 years. It also says the number of people interested in the NFL in China has grown since 2010, from 1.6million to 19million, with more than 15 million tuning in to watch Super Bowl 50 live in February.