The Melbourne Demons captured the first ever Kaspersky Cup – AFL Shanghai Showdown on Sunday against the Brisbane Lions in thrilling fashion after rallying from a 31-point deficit to win in the waning seconds 84-79 at Jiangwan Stadium in Yangpu District.
This was the Australian Football League’s (better known as Aussie rules) marquee event of its long planned foray into the China market, which includes a TV deal that will see live broadcast of future games on local television thanks to the Shanghai Media Group (SMG).
The match started off a tad slow (at one point some fans near us commented that it might be more interesting if there were two balls instead of one) but more than made up for it in the frantic final period (there are four in total) as Melbourne’s Liam Jurrah sailed home a final goal to steal the win just as the final horn sounded.
While the event was well organized, the turnout was quite subdued (only an estimated 5,000 spectators witnessed the action and who knows how many of those had free tickets) proving how difficult it is to get the local community enthused about any sport where there is no Olympic champion or hometown hero (see Yao Ming and Liu Xiang).
Adding to that is the complexity of the rules, with 32 players running around (normally there are 36 but the game was modified for more open play) and an additional 10 or so referees, water boys and other non-players it might have been a bit confusing for those uninitiated to the sport, both Chinese and foreigner alike.
But this was more about a friendly introduction more than anything, as an example, mid-way through the second period commentary began in Chinese explaining the on-field play, rules and strategy, and to that end is was quite a success.
AFL follows the global sports trend of competing for a piece of the China sports pie along with the likes of the NBA, NFL, EPL, MLB and other professional leagues. Considering how the NFL and MLB haven’t made significant progress in denting the Chinese market despite charging headlong into it, we’re not sure we share the same optimism as some AFL officials and organizers.
Chief of the Yangpu District Sports Bureau, Mr. Chen Wei, who thought of bringing the sport to Shanghai while traveling to Australia, points out, “I think the Australian game is easier to introduce. American football requires so much equipment. Australian doesn’t need it.”
While we agree, what might ail the AFL as it has ailed the NFL and MLB in their grassroot campaigns to get more youth playing their respective sports is the limited availability of playing fields. Baseball diamonds and oval shaped football pitches aren’t around every block and even if there were some more open green spaces, we are not sure footy players could outmaneuver the infamous park security guards and their whistling about heaven forbid – actually playing on the grass.
One more thing, can anybody tell us what is up with the hokey team introduction songs? Sounded more like a bar room chorus than the opening of a football match.