History in the Making: American Football League Approved for China
Thursday August 14, 2014
PHILADELPHIA, PA (August 14, 2014) – American football is coming to China.
In an unprecedented move, the Chinese sports authorities have entered into an agreement to create the first football league in the country’s history.
Following several years of intense effort, and with the approval of Chinese authorities, U.S. businessman Marty Judge and his Beijing-based company, Ganlan Media International (GMI), along with the Chinese Rugby Football Association (CRFA), have created the new league, known as the China American Football League (CAFL). Judge’s partners in the venture include former NFL MVP and current ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski and Super Bowl-winning coach Dick Vermeil.
China is the world’s most populous country and is also considered one of the world’s great sporting powers.
Judge, the CEO and founder of Pennsylvania-based The Judge Group (and also co-owner of the Arena League’s Philadelphia Soul), is the long-term visionary behind taking American football to China.
“This approval from the CRFA is an unprecedented and exciting accomplishment achieved by a total team effort working hand in hand with the CRFA,” said Judge. “With the backing of the Chinese government, the sky is the limit for how we can grow American football in the vast, untapped Chinese marketplace.”
“The prospect of bringing American football to one of the world’s largest countries is tremendously exciting for me,” said Jaworski, who previously accompanied Judge to China to help lay the groundwork for the CAFL. “This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring our great sport to China, and to do it with the cooperation of the Chinese government. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to it. I strongly believe American football will meet the insatiable sports demand from the Chinese growing consumer base, especially among the younger people.”
“Hey, once a coach, always a coach, so you know that this is something I’m very much looking forward to,” said Vermeil. “Anyone who knows me knows that I have always had a tremendous passion for our game of football. To get the opportunity to share our great sport with the sports fans in China is something that very much excites me.”
The CAFL plans to kick off in 2015 with two conferences featuring six to eight teams from the major cities in China. Plans are underway for a championship game plus an All-Star Game at the end of the season to be held in Macau. Each CAFL team will have a combination of American and Chinese players.
Following the launch of professional football in China, plans are in place to further expand the sport on a professional level throughout the Asian economic region. Judge’s longer-term vision is to have 30 teams throughout China, and eventually throughout Asia and Australia.
In addition, the 2014 regular season will commence in late October with six of the top sports universities competing in Tianjin and Wuhan for the coveted entry in to the championship game to be played in mid-November at the famous Olympic venue, the Beijing Capital Gymnasium.
For the CRFA to host this league signifies that the sporting governing body of the Chinese Government has given their endorsement and support to the development of indoor American football as China pushes to commercialize its sporting industries. The move also recognizes the three years of behind-the-scenes work by the CAFL team.
CAFL franchise owners will initially invest $10 million per team and will receive a portion of the TV licensing rights.
“The CRFA is pleased to welcome American football and the CAFL in China,” said Li Dazheng, Vice Chairman of the CRFA, who previously watched the six-team university tournament in Wuhan last March that was organized by GMI and CAFL. “This American style indoor football education tournament was the first of its kind in China’s sports history. Its significance was trailblazing.”
On behalf of the CRFA, Li expressed his appreciation to the American coaches and referees who have worked with China’s sports universities over the last several years to educate and train them in American football. In addition, Li thanked Judge for leading the CAFL in bringing American football to China. Li added that he believes this sport that combines physical, mental and leadership powers will attract many young people, especially high school and university students. It will also develop stronger teamwork skills which will be very beneficial to China.
After considerable analysis of traditional American football vs. the arena-style game, the CRFA experts think that indoor American football best suits the Chinese fan base due to its faster pace, higher scoring and “close-to-the-fans” entertainment, which is similar to the highly successful Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). Additionally, China has limited outdoor stadiums that are conducive to traditional football. The country has an abundance of high-caliber arenas which makes indoor, arena-style football the compelling model with which to launch professional football in China.
In November 2013, Judge sponsored the first American football game ever played in China. Played at China’s famed Olympic venue, Beijing Capital Gymnasium, crowds were large and headlines included “American Football Debut Earns Rave Reviews from Chinese Fans” and “First Football Game a Huge Hit in China.”
“It is possible that someday the CAFL could be bigger in China than the NFL is here,” Judge said. “Here in the U.S., there are 330 million people. In China, there are 1.4 billion people, four times the number here. There are 3.8 billion people in all of Asia. It is very exciting to ponder the opportunities.”
Judge and his partners have reason to be confident in their investment. “China is going through a cultural change,” said Judge. “They have the money to spend and a fast-growing interest in sports, especially American sports. They don’t have a professional sport like American football, a contact sport, and they are very receptive to what the CAFL will provide.”
Business Insider has reported that the China’s Sports Administration aims to raise the share of China’s GDP spent on the sports industry from $23 billion to $62 billion over the next five years.