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SBD Global/August 15, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Chinese American Football League Looks To Establish Pro Indoor Football Throughout China

Plans to form the Chinese American Football League, a new initiative to bring pro indoor football to major Chinese cities, were formally announced on Thursday. Arena Football League Philadelphia Soul Owner Marty Judge, who says he has two offices already opened in China with 30 employees, is spearheading the initiative. ESPN’s Ron Jaworski and former NFL coach Dick Vermeil both have equity in the league. The press release claims the league has formal Chinese government approval, a necessity with any initiative in the country. Judge said the Chinese Rugby Football Association, which oversees ball sports in China, has blessed the new league. Judge noted his AFL club is not involved in the Chinese venture. Judge: “The cities are locked in. We are playing in government arenas, the government owns the arenas, they are host and sponsor." American football is a rarity in China, with a few amateur teams currently playing in a country with a population of 1.3 billion. The NFL's efforts to date have been digital-focused and aimed at promoting flag football. It is from those flag football efforts that the new CAFL will draw. Judge said he chose to push indoor instead of outdoor football because of the dearth of stadiums in China. Air quality also is a concern with any outdoor activity in major Chinese cities. David Niu, a former rugby exec, will serve as CAFL Commissioner. The league plans to start with eight teams and sell them for a price of $10M each. It has begun approaching various potential buyers, although sources said that the WWE already has turned down an offer to buy a team (Daniel Kaplan, Staff Writer).

: In N.Y., Richard Sandomir wrote Judge said that the CAFL's 20-man rosters "will be divided evenly between Chinese and American players," with the American players coming from the AFL and colleges. Jaworski said, "What we’re finding in our research is that there are many Chinese players in the States, maybe not at Michigan or Ohio State but some high-caliber players at lower-level colleges who, as they hear about us, would like to play.” He added, "Like any endeavor, there is some risk involved. No one else has tried it. I don’t have a crystal ball, but we’re highly confident this will work. I think we can find great passion for football in China.” Judge noted that he "expected the league to have 30 teams in five years" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/14).

FOLLOWING THE MONEY: Judge noted there are "tons" of billionaires in China and they "don’t have enough soccer teams and sports teams to buy." Judge: "I'm going to solve that problem." CNBC's Joe Kernen asked, "So you're going to sell this to (NFL Commissioner Roger) Goodell in a couple of years for $2 billion?" Judge said Goodell "knows what I'm doing and he knows where I am." Meanwhile, Judge noted he is leading an effort to establish an NCAA-style association for universities in China to begin playing each other in football ("Squawk Box," CNBC, 8/14). BLOOMBERG's Erik Matuszewski wrote the CAFL "will kick off its professional season" in Sept. '15. In addition to a championship game, played at the home stadium of the team with the league’s best record, the CAFL "plans to have an All-Star game after the season in Macau." While the "fledgling league has a large potential fan base in China, it also has an uphill climb." American football just makes the top 20 of China’s most popular sports, according to CSM Media Research, "ranking far behind Olympic events such as ping pong, gymnastics, swimming and badminton." NFL China Managing Dir Richard Young said that growing interest in American football "has been a gradual process." Young said, "I’ve been based out in Asia for over 20 years and I’ve seen a lot of people rush in, look at China as the new big thing and expect returns to come quickly. That’s a very difficult thing, in any industry, but especially in sports. It’s a bit different over here. You don’t have the media base from which to draw revenues because television is state-controlled" (BLOOMBERG, 8/14).
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