Super Bowl Monday Rings In The Year Of The Horse In Chinese Cities
Every winter, people in China celebrate an occasion determined by an ancient calendar. Symbols of animals are usually invoked, special foods and alcoholic beverages are served, and people often travel considerable distances for the celebration. Chinese New Year? No. It is the Super Bowl. In China, it’s never Super Bowl Sunday. Thirteen hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, it’s Super Bowl Monday, meaning an early rise and a potential no-show at work that morning for fans keen to see the game, either broadcast live on provincial channels, some with national reach, through big online partners such as portals Sina.com or QQ.com, or via satellite. Previous broadcasts have featured former Philadelphia Eagles player Chad Lewis offering commentary in Mandarin. The NFL is sponsoring official events in Beijing and Shanghai, and is joined by a number of bars and restaurants catering to an international clientele, a welcome boost for the hosting venues. “From a business point of view, it's a great start to the day, we've made some money before the lunch crowd comes in. It's a comfortable option to watch the Super Bowl,” said Andy Bright, regional manager of Windy City Int'l, which operates Union Bar & Grille in Beijing. “[Hosting the Super Bowl] is a fun thing for us. Even on regular [NFL] game days, people show up. As long as we’re there, we let them watch,” said Carl Setzer, co-founder and brewmaster of the Great Leap Brewing brewpub, also in Beijing.
GOOD TIME FOR A PARTY: The NFL’s biggest day has fallen during the week-long Chinese New Year public holiday in China, which is a mixed blessing for viewers. The NFL’s mostly American expatriate fans and its small fan base in China won’t have to take the day off from work. However, China residents, both Chinese and foreign, will use the time off to travel. The NFL continues to make yard-by-yard progress in China. The Home Field program gives university students the chance to play organized flag football in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. This year also featured appearances in China by Joe Montana, and the return of members of the New England Patriots cheerleaders.
HEARTS AND MINDS: NFL China Managing Dir Richard Young, quoting surveys by CSN Research, said, “Percentage-wise, American football is probably the fastest-growing sport in China. We had a 65% growth in our fan base, from 9 million to 14.2 million in China, and that’s a significant bump. When you start to get into 14-15 million, that’s significant. Compared to 1.3 billion, no, it’s not a lot, but it’s still significant. We have about 1 million fans that are avid -- they follow a team and they’re passionate about it.” Young quoted former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s strategy of “Crossing the river by feeling the stones." Young said, "Once we get a solid rock, we’ll take the next step.” he said.
THE NEXT STEP: Is that next step an exhibition game?Young said, "It takes time. They played over 15 years of exhibition games in London, and they were in that market far earlier. We don’t want to do anything that we can’t do better the next year. We don’t want to do an event just to say we did an event. We want to make sure the first time people touch and feel the NFL, we want to have a full house with faces painted.” The closest Beijing has come to a full exhibition game similar to the annual event in Tokyo was a cancelled 2007 contest that was “postponed,” but never rescheduled. The NFL has also sought to recruit Chinese players as potential kickers, in order to generate the kind of interest the NBA enjoyed due to the participation of Yao Ming, but none has come close to making the cut. Young said, "Coffee is never going to overtake tea in China. We’re not necessarily
looking to overtake the NBA, but are we gaining? We are making
significant gains. Last year we held nine events with 30,000 people
attending or participating. We were involved in 28 events with 100,000
people this year." Regardless, Chinese fans will see something in the stars for this year’s big game: it just became the Year of the Horse, and the Denver Broncos are playing in the Super Bowl.
Steven Schwankert is a writer in Beijing.
A look at the NFL's global Super Bowl activities:
U.K. -- NFL SuperBash; Primary Sponsors: Budweiser, Pepsi, VISA, Microsoft, Chrysler, Virgin Atlantic, Thomson Sport, Brand USA; Location: Indigo2 @ the O2 Arena; Audience: Sold out audience of 2,000, consisting of NFL UK Sponsors and lottery-winning fans.
MEXICO -- NFL Super Fiestas (Four Events) -- Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Hermosillo; Primary Sponsors: Coors Light, Banorte, VISA, Dodge, SAP, Samsung; Locations: World Trade Center, Andares Terrace, Convex Convention Center, Expo Forum Hermosillo; Audience: Ranges between 500-1,500, consisting of NFL Mexico Sponsors and consumer promotion winners.
CHINA -- NFL Super Bowl Viewing Parties (Two Events) -- Shanghai, Beijing; Primary Sponsors: Budweiser, VISA, Microsoft, United Airlines; Location: Kerry Hotel Shanghai, Kerry Hotel Beijing; Audience: 500-750 per event, consisting of NFL China Sponsors and ticket purchasing fans.
AUSTRALIA -- NFL Super Bowl Viewing Party (in conjunction with ESPN & Foxtel) -- Melbourne; Primary Sponsor: Budweiser; Location: Federation Square; Audience: Anticipated to be 1,500-2,000, free event open to the public (SBD Global).