DYLAN JOSEPH WRITES – American-style football has come to China.
On October 1, more than 11,000 Chinese fans turned out to watch the Qingdao Clipper take on (and defeat) the Guangzhou Power.
It was the first big match for the China Arena Football League (CAFL), and league owner Marty Judge was beaming. “Five years ago, people laughed at me when I said I would bring American football to China. Take a look around you. Here we are, on the home floor of the Beijing Ducks, and the China Olympics, and they came to see us – the CAFL, how about that!”
It was an exciting game: The Qingdao Clipper held off a last-minute push by the Guangzhou Power to secure a 38-35 win. Fans saw Chinese athletes compete at a high-level in a sport relatively new to Asia, holding their own against some of the best U.S. arena football players around.
From the first play on, the fans were pumped. Cheers erupted when Clipper Chao Ran Li launched the kickoff — and tackled a U.S. player. Qingdao’s wide receiver Tian Chu Zhang scored the first touchdown ever by a Chinese player.
Backers hope creation of the CAFL will open new doors for American-style abroad. The Chinese State Council vowed to make the sports industry a key economic resource going forward, projecting a 500% increase in revenue from $158 billion to $750 billion by 2025. With the sports industry receiving government patronage, this could be an auspicious time to introduce a sport like American football to a growing market like China. “I think in five years, football could be a relatively big thing in China,” said Xiao Shen, an NFL commentator on LeSports. “I’m very cautiously optimistic.”