NFL Makes Push Into China With 'Home Field' Opening Kickoff Event In Beijing
More than 2,000 people attended NFL Home Field’s opening kickoff on Sunday in Beijing. NFL China Managing Dir Richard Young said the focus was to “make sure everyone we touch walks away with a good experience.” Hosted by Beihang University, the day included university flag football games, a Nike Pro Training Football Challenge and local vendors serving up a tailgate experience of sausage, burgers and beer. The majority of attendees were university students who said that they learned of the event through social media and TV. The league’s largest marketing initiative in China, produced by Chinese firm Dragon Media, also launched this weekend at Shanghai Stadium and Tianhe Sports Center in Guangzhou. NFL Home Field will consist of 28 events over nine weeks through mid-November. A league spokesperson estimated that 80,000 people will attend throughout the event, and Young confirmed he is “very confident of that.” NFL China also confirmed a former NFL player will be visiting “later in the fall,” while cheerleaders from the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots will attend in October. Event sponsors include Nike, Wilson, Visa and Budweiser. Young added that since Nike’s partnership began last year, football apparel has been added to stores and seen a steady increase in items such as team uniforms and NFL jerseys. Local Beijing sponsor Kerry Hotel entered the second year of a partnership with the NFL, which is renewed on a yearly basis, after hosting the official 2013 Super Bowl party. The hotel plans to host the 2014 Super Bowl event, as well as various viewing parties. Kerry Hotel GM Jeremy Aniere said, “We see it as a win-win opportunity to bring this experience to our guests as well as the local fans.”
BEIJING THE NEW LONDON? Young said that an NFL exhibition game is very possible in the future, but did not specify when. Young explained that the priority of NFL expansion in China is to meet the demand and maintain continuous growth. He said, “I’m a big proponent of adaptation. It’s a process.” Asked about the biggest barrier against growth, Young replied football is not an Olympic sport, and the Ministry of Sport’s job is to “win medals for their country.” He said it is “not a barrier, it just slows us down.” Young added, “There is a long way to go, but it will come because of the product.” Throughout the ’13-14 season, GDTV Sports and Eurosoccer will air Thursday, Sunday and Monday Night Football live. Further broadcasting is available on regional stations.
NUMBERS TALK: Sports marketing agency CSM’s research concluded that more than 9 million people in China's top 19 tier cities have "a little interest" in the NFL, with the majority in one of the three NFL Home Field cities. Research further indicated that the NFL fan base saw a 35% year-on-year growth across the country and a 188% year-on-year growth in online live streaming viewership, with 1.4 million people watching the Super Bowl live streaming online. Its Weibo account, the Chinese version of Twitter, has increased its followers to more than 280,500.
Kristen Heimstead is a writer in Beijing.