SBJ/20081208/This Week's News

NFL shifts focus as Pats close China office

The NFL has suspended indefinitely plans to play a preseason game in China as the league focuses on regular-season contests outside the United States in London, Mexico and Canada.

The move comes as the New England Patriots, who were slated to play Seattle in the China exhibition game first scheduled for 2007, shuttered their China operations in the last few weeks. The team was the only NFL club with an on-site presence in the country.

“We have rededicated some resources in the current economy,” said Patriots spokesman Stacey James. “We continued our efforts there until recently. … There has been some belt-tightening given the economy, and one of the things we suspended was our operation there.”

Nicholas Krippendorf, Patriots director of Chinese business development, ran the office and is no longer with the club. The team had sent players and cheerleaders to the country to promote the Patriots’ brand.

New England was to have played in the China
Bowl, but the NFL postponed the game.

The NFL in April 2007 announced it had postponed the China preseason game because of complications with the build-up to the Olympics but noted that the 2009 preseason was the new target date for the game. That game now will not occur, said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy.

McCarthy said the possibility of indefinitely suspending the China preseason game became “increasingly apparent earlier this year once we locked into having three years of games in the [United Kingdom].”

“[The Buffalo] Bills also announced their Toronto series,” he said, “and we hope to have another regular-season game in Mexico.”

San Francisco and Arizona played in Mexico City in 2005.

The NFL is focused on media and digital initiatives in China and its youth flag football leagues. The league has a four-person office in China led by Mike Stokes.

The NFL’s modest moves are in sharp contrast to the other two domestic leagues with eyes on the China market. The NBA is building arenas in China and sold 11 percent of its widely admired business in the country for $253 million. The league also boasts a top Chinese player in Yao Ming and played preseason games there in three of the last five years.

MLB played two preseason games in China this year and conducts an annual academy with elite young players in the country. The New York Yankees, baseball’s top brand, have their own China initiative.

NFL consultant Marc Ganis, who co-owns a business in China, noted the NFL’s strategy of playing games there and running grassroots initiatives in a country so large.

“It was one of the few failures of the NFL,” Ganis said, adding that the league’s media efforts in China are a better approach.

China was a focus of former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who even talked about living in the country when he left his post in September 2006. His successor, Roger Goodell, has overturned many of Tagliabue’s international efforts. NFL Europa and now the China plans, pet projects of Tagliabue, are gone or diminished, and rather than marketing preseason games around the globe, the league under Goodell has been sending regular-season games outside the United States.

The Patriots and Tampa Bay will play in London next October, marking the third consecutive year for a regular-season game in that city, and the Bills were scheduled Sunday to play Miami in Toronto.

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