One giant step for the NFL in China

Updated: 2011-11-29 07:54

By Lei Lei (China Daily)

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One giant step for the NFL in China

Players from Beijing Sports University and Shanghai University of Sport play during the University Bowl - the final of China's university flag football league - in Shanghai on Sunday. Beijing Sports University won the title. [Provided to China Daily]

SHANGHAI - The NFL wants to find a home in China.

The feeling seems to be mutual.

Retired star Tony Dorsett, a four-time Pro Bowl running back and Hall of Fame inductee, said the league sees plenty of room for growth in China.

"I think there is tremendous potential here," said Dorsett, who was in Shanghai on Sunday as part of the NFL's largest ever promotional event in Asia, the NFL Experience.

"Obviously the Chinese fans are not familiar with the sport, but they love the enthusiasm and the passion - I saw that when I watched the flag football teams practice. I think it is great for the NFL to be active in a new market like China. People may be slow in understanding the sport and the culture, but as long as the NFL is willing to invest long term with educating and developing the young sports fans here, it is going to work."

Offering locals a taste of American football, the NFL Experience is an interactive theme park with participatory games, displays, entertainment and youth football clinics.

The 2011-12 University Bowl, the championship game of NFL China's collegiate flag football league, was also held during the event. Beijing Sports University was crowned champion.

For those young Chinese players, football is an attractive team sport.

"I appreciated the teamwork the sport requires," said Gao Boran, 22, MVP of the final from the Beijing Sports University, who has played for one year.

"I believe anyone who plays the sport will love it."

Dorsett said he liked what he saw on the field.

"The kids I saw play are athletic, and they have speed," said Dorsett, who greeted fans and signed autographs.

"They are not any slower than any young players in the US. Now, obviously there is a difference in playing flag football, and putting on helmets and pads and playing real, tackle football. They also need to improve on the throwing and catching part of the game. But today, I definitely saw some athletes out there. They have potential.

"Keep working on the skills part, like throwing and catching. I could see that the kids know the sport. I also like the passion I saw. They are really excited out there playing. At the same time, I want to tell them that they should focus on developing their minds. Their education is something nobody could take away from them."

NFL China is also busy improving the scope of its broadcasts. It announced a season-long partnership with PPTV, China's largest internet TV provider, to bring HD quality live broadcasts of Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football.

"We have our sights set on being a staple in the China sports landscape, where people will demand to see a sports league that has the same quality and excitement as the one in America," said NFL China managing director Richard Young.

"We have prepared for our fans a rich offering of NFL fun - whether it is live games on TV, online, or at the NFL Experience with your entire family. Giving football fans in China what they love, a real taste of the NFL, is how we accomplish that goal."

China Daily