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China Announcement Start of Something Big

Adam Markowitz
Friday August 15, 2014

Almost a year ago, I had the best seat in the house for the first ever American professional football game played on Chinese soil. No, I wasn't playing in the game, and no, I certainly wasn't the most important person there by any stretch of the imagination, but I will never forget Marty Judge coming up to me maybe a half hour before that game in Beijing kicked off and saying, "This is going to be big."

And big, it officially is.

On Tuesday, Judge announced that American football was officially approved for China. We are still a year away from the first games being played in the new China American Football League, but when you take a moment to think about it, the growth that the Chinese have demonstrated for this game has been meteoric.

It was only a year ago that the nets that were ordered to play the first game in China were soccer nets instead of the traditional tightly wound rebound nets that we, here in the AFL know and love. Prospective Chinese quarterbacks didn't know how to grip a football, and their mechanics were, understandably all off kilter. Prospective receivers tried to reach out to grab passes with just their hands instead of trying to use their bodies to help them catch. A tackle? No one in China had any clue what that was. The most impressive part of the game to the Chinese fans was the kickoff, a play that we see in America as the one where we go to the fridge to grab a beer.

It's tough to believe that a nation of almost 1.4 billion has never experienced a contact sport. Soccer is the closest thing that the Chinese have, and they aren't nearly as advanced in the sport, especially at the men's level, as some of the other Asian nations who embrace that other sport they call futbol.

Basketball is the other major sport in China, and it was only 25 years ago that David Stern was essentially begging the Chinese government to show NBA games in their country. Fast forward to 2014, and an estimated 300 million in China are playing basketball in some respects, and NBA China is producing $150 million in revenue, according to a report in the New York Times. The article goes on to state that the efforts of the new NBA commissioner, Adam Silver is looking to expand the presence of basketball both in China and elsewhere abroad.

In an interview on Wednesday on "Varney & Co.", Judge said that the Chinese government is increasing its monetary output for sports from 2.5 percent of its GNP to 7.5 percent over the course of the next five years. That's $63 billion that will be spent on sports alone for a nation of 1.4 billion people.

It would also help to put this into its proper perspective. On Thanksgiving Day 1925, 36,000 people watched the Chicago Bears play the Chicago Staleys at Wrigley Field. It was the biggest crowd by a country mile to ever watch a professional football game. Just 90 years later, over 17.3 million people were in attendance at the 256 regular season NFL games, an average of over 67,000 people per game, and an average of 20.3 million fans per week were tuned in to watch regular season games. An estimated 111.5 million Americans watched the Super Bowl last season.

That's almost 29 percent of all Americans who watched the Super Bowl. If 29 percent of the Chinese population watched the championship game for the CAFL, that would be a reach of 406 million sets of eyes.

And now, I digress. There were just under 10,000 people at the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing last November watching, for the very first time, the sport that we have loved in this country for around 100 years. It's amazing how quickly 10,000 could become 400 million.

Judge was right. This is going to be big.

Adam Markowitz is an accountant and a freelance sports writer living in Orlando. As a Florida State graduate with degrees in music and history, the garnet and gold will forever be a part of him, but he bleeds the black and red of the Orlando Predators like none other. Adam has been following the AFL since 1991 and has been at well over 200 games, including 16 ArenaBowls. You can follow Adam on Twitter @AFLGuru.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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