Beijing will play host to an NFL preseason game next year, the professional American football league announced today (it had been rumored for a while). The New England Patriots will take on the Seattle Seahawks at 8:30 pm on August 8, 2007 in Workers Stadium. The game will be televised live in both the United States (NBC) and China (CCTV). (The Associated Press story, linked to above, said the game “will be shown live on NBC at 8:30 a.m. ET on Aug. 9. The dateline was “FOXBORO, Mass.” — forgive them if they don’t quite understand how the time difference works up in New England.)
We’re big fans of the NFL here at Shanghaiist — we are watching the Patriots/Broncos game live as we type this — but we have our doubts whether American football will ever take off here in China. Maybe it’s different in Beijing, but in Shanghai it seems NFL players would have to lose their pads, make the ball a little rounder and learn how to scrum before anyone here would give a shit. Some of this has to do with the time difference — most NFL games are played while most people in China are sleeping — but American football is also a sport that the majority of people here can’t relate to … because they will never have a chance to play it. Unlike soccer and basketball, American football requires lots of expensive equipment and the game’s objective is not as simple as putting a ball inside a hole. But maybe American football can obtain a kind of cult status here (we have heard that it’s kind of popular in Japan) … so, we’ll see. One story said the NFL’s China plan includes trying to spread the play of flag football throughout the country.
Stories about the “China Bowl” (which is what some people are calling the game) include the 1.3-billion-potential-fans balderdash we have come to expect. Here are some quotes:
“If there’s any country we should bring our game to, it’s the most populous country on earth where there’s a great business environment and a great love of sport,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. “There’s nothing that brings people together like sport and we believe this is a great way to bring our two countries closer together.” …
The football game “seems like an absolute natural” to take place in China which is “the greatest growing new society,” said Dick Ebersol, NBC Universal Sports & Olympic chairman. “It’s hard to call China a new society, but to so much of us it has become a new society.”
Sports Illustrated‘s Peter King suggests that not everyone associated with the game may be so excited about a trip to China during the preseason:
But it will be interesting to see how the teams will respond to the news, particularly Patriots coach Bill Belichick. It could be a training-camp nightmare for the clubs. Belichick hates any distractions and prefers camp to be run on a strict routine. But camp will be broken up for 10 days in the middle of the summer with a six-hour flight to Seattle, then a game, then a 12-hour flight to Beijing, then practices and public displays in a country totally unfamiliar with the game, then a game against the same team, then a 16-hour flight back to New England. And don’t think Mike Holmgren will be too thrilled with the arrangement, either — assuming he’s still the Seattle coach next summer.
But it was another line in the AP story that really caught our attention:
CCTV is broadcasting the NFL’s schedule of Sunday night games live in China throughout this season, culminating with an on-site telecast of the Super Bowl.
That news prompted us to turn off our satellite and look for the Patriots-Broncos game on Chinese television. No luck: Plenty of soccer, but no NFL. Has anyone caught a Sunday night (Monday morning) NFL game on CCTV? Let us know. If not, someone might want to let the NFL know the ball has been dropped somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.