Forbes Asks the Big Question!
- Updated: August 14, 2014
Will New China Football League Surpass NFL?
by Steve Forbes
AT A TIME OF TENSION between Washington and Beijing—China’s worrying naval assertiveness, serious charges of cyber-spying, trade restrictions and protection of intellectual property—here’s a piece of good news: American-style football is coming to the Middle Kingdom. Chinese sports authorities have formally approved the creation of the country’s first football league.
The China American Football League (CAFL) will kick-off its first season in 2015, with six to eight teams in two conferences. The teams will be based in China’s major cities.
The mover behind this breathtaking breakthrough is Philadelphia-based, American businessman Marty Judge, who is co-owner of the Arena League’s Philadelphia Soul, a professional arena football team. Among those partnering with Judge are former NFL MVP and current ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski and Super Bowl-winning coach Dick Vermeil. The agreement was concluded with Judge’s Beijing-based company, Ganlan Media International and the Chinese Rugby Football Association.
Initial franchise owners will pony up $10 million per team and will receive a piece of TV-licensing rights.
The play will take place in indoor arenas. Today’s announcement explains that arena-style American football “best suits the China 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.” Who knows, perhaps this model may be a catalyst for changes in how the game is played here in the U.S., where the action accounts for only a handful of minutes in each contest.
Judge is no stranger to China. He and his teammates have been working intensely on this project for several years. Last November Judge sponsored the first American football game played in China, which garnered rave reviews there.
Says an enthusiastic Judge, “It’s possible that someday the CAFL could be bigger in China than the NFL is [in the U.S.]. Here there are 330 million people. In China there are 1.4 billion people, four times the number here…. 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.”
And not only China. Judge believes the game could take root throughout Asia and Australia, where the combined population totals 3.8 billion people, expanding to 30 teams.
Just as some 40-plus years ago the game of table tennis—what we call ping-pong—was an instrument in breaking down barriers between the U.S. and China, football could play a similar role today in improving relations between these two giants. Beijing’s current leadership, which took the reins of power two years ago, knows the importance of instituting further economic reforms to enable the country to achieve rapid—and sound—growth in the future. One good sign that China is desirous of defusing tensions with its neighbors came recently when it changed the location of a controversial oil-drilling platform in the South China Sea that had roiled relations with Vietnam.
What Judge has achieved is extraordinary.Contact CAFL