SBD/November 9, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Has No Plans To Host A Game In China Anytime Soon

NFL China's Richard Young is happy with sport's growth in major cities
NFL China Managing Dir Richard Young said that the NFL is "enjoying rapid growth in China but it will not stage a game there until the fan base reaches a tipping point to avoid damaging its 'brand equity,'" according to Peter Rutherford of REUTERS. Young said that the league "dropped the ball by getting there late, but he is comfortable with the growth in popularity of American football across China's major cities." Rutherford noted the NFL had to "cancel an exhibition game" between the Patriots and Seahawks in '07 as China "simply was not ready for the sport and the league's international expansion was instead routed through London." The logistical difficulties in bringing the NFL to China and "delivering a product that would do the league justice was also something that had been underestimated." Young said, "Until our fan base is at a level where it can truly support itself, and there is additional demand for more, I'm not supportive of holding a game here." He added, "Wembley sells out in three hours -- that's the NFL. Having empty seats and saying, 'Oh we still have tickets left' -- that's not the NFL." Rutherford noted unlike the NBA, which has been "able to flourish in China due to the country's long-established basketball structure, the NFL is starting from scratch." Growing the game at a grassroots level "will mean educating people about a highly complex sport, providing expensive equipment and finding the space to play." The NFL also is "hindered by the fact American football is not an Olympic sport." Despite the challenges, NFL figures "show encouraging growth, particularly in social media and online streaming" (REUTERS, 11/8).

LONDON CALLING: The Vikings are scheduled to play the Steelers in London next year, and in Minneapolis, Sid Hartman reported while the Vikings' new stadium is being built and the team is playing at TCF Bank Stadium, the NFL "might take a second game out of Minneapolis in 2014 and move it to London as well." Vikings VP/Public Affairs & Stadium Development Lester Bagley "denied the report that the Vikings have made any commitment for more than one game." However, he said, "After the first game is played (in London), we will see how it goes and then we'll decide if another game is scheduled" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 11/8).

The topic of which sports are best positioned for growth was discussed Wednesday on a Global Sports Media Panel at the '12 Covington & Burling Sports, Media & Technology conference, with some bullish on the growth of the UFC while others note the challenges facing the NFL.
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