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The NFL Is Blitzing the Chinese Market


The Super Bowl, much more than a football game, has become a global cultural event and an economic engine.

The Super Bowl, much more than a football game, has become a global cultural event and an economic engine.

The National Retail Federation estimates more than 179 million people will watch the Baltimore Ravens battle the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. Total Super Bowl spending by consumers, it says, will come in at nearly $12.3 billion. And the average game watcher will spend $68.54 on Super Bowl-related purchases like food, beverages, snacks, sportswear, decorations, and even new televisions.

Last year's championship game was seen by a record 111.3 million viewers. And if you take into account edited and tape-delayed broadcasts, tens of millions of viewers outside the US also watch the Super Bowl.

Given those numbers, the NFL is actively looking to recruit more fans overseas, and is reportedly focusing on five core countries: Canada, Mexico, Britain, Japan, and China.

In fact, according to Ad Age, the Super Bowl was watched by 22 million people in China last year, either live or on delay.

League officials have been blitzing the Chinese market -- bringing NFL legends and cheerleaders over for public relations events, launching a Web page in Chinese and hosting Super Bowl breakfast parties in Beijing and Shanghai. Seven Chinese TV stations will reportedly be broadcasting the game starting at 7:30 a.m. local time -- and it will also be available via live online streaming.

"You've got to make a marketplace," Richard Young, the NFL's Managing Director in China, told Ad Age. "We're building the NFL, but there's nothing underneath. We have a 38-university flag-football league and they're in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou. There's a real opportunity here both for flag football and contact to grow, but it's going to require some help."

And while a lot of non-Americans are drawn to the power and fast play of "American football," the game faces some unique obstacles in China.

"China's one-child policy presents a problem for most sports, and particularly for strong sports," Yu Hang, the director of China's Sina Sports, told the New York Times -- referring to the Chinese emphasis on education and concerns by Chinese parents about football's physical dangers.

Sina Sports is working with the NFL to explain the complexities of football to the Chinese public. But Yu says it's not necessarily the game itself, but its pageantry, that is drawing most Chinese viewers to the Super Bowl.

"Our viewers are keen to pursue fashionable things," he said. "They want Justin Bieber and Madonna at the Super Bowl halftime show. They want to see the TV ads. That's international-qualit?y entertainment. But after the game, they may not continue to be fans of the sport. Not yet."

Editor's Note: This story by Bruce Kennedy was originally published on MSN moneyNOW.

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