The marketing whizzes at the NFL love to point out how popular the league is beyond its U.S. borders. It's been big in Europe and Latin America, for example. Now, China's come forward in embracing the gridiron game big-time. The latest stats have audiences in the land of dynasties averaging 900,000 per game on the tube, while more than 100 teams that play the American style of game on the other side of the rim.
And while the NFL has made inroads in Europe with a handful of games being played this season at London's Wembley Field, but had to cancel a match in Mexico City due to poor field conditions, there hasn't been an opportunity to get a couple squads to scrimmage in China.
According to CNBC, the problem is there aren't enough games to spread around the planet. Even though the NFL has 256 regular season games as well as 64 preseason games, one would think that the league could spare a few in Asia. But, on the other hand, consider that each franchise only 10 home games (including two preseason dates) to spare. Any additional games that would be fielded outside the U.S. mean answering to the multitude of season ticket holders who want to see more pigskin action to warrant the purchase of a pass.
Then there's the travel time involved in getting to China. For Beijing to host a game that includes Seattle, the NFL franchise closest geographically to the Chinese capital, it would take the Seahawks more than 11 hours to complete the flight to a game. On the eastern seaboard, it would take longer, especially with connecting flights. NFL China, which markets the game across the Pacific, would dearly love to be involved in having a game in the country, but purely understands the practicalities.
"I think when you can fly between New York and Shanghai in an hour and a half, then we can do that," said Richard Young, NFL China's marketing director. "Until that time, it's logistically very difficult."
And let's not forget there's currently a trade war going on between China and the U.S. While the NFL and other leagues like the NBA and the PGA have invested millions into getting that country interested in American pro sports, the thoughts of how a global economic fracas would disrupt all that groundwork is unpredictable at best.
Still, if there's a way to bridge warring factions, sports has a knack for bringing people together, even if those on the field are too busy slugging it out to be cognizant of that possibility.