SHANGHAI (AFP) – The US National Football League on Monday announced an agreement granting tech giant Tencent exclusive digital streaming rights for NFL games in China, as the world’s richest sports league by revenues expands its China presence.
Under the three-year agreement Shenzhen-based Tencent will stream live and on-demand NFL pre-season, regular-season and playoff games plus the Super Bowl and other content in China, they announced in a joint statement.
Financial details were not disclosed.
The NFL’s uniquely American brand of gridiron football has traditionally lagged behind the US National Basketball Association (NBA) and European soccer leagues in drawing a Chinese following.
But the NFL has pushed aggressively in recent years and reports growing interest as Chinese consumers armed with smartphones seek more diverse sources of mobile sport and entertainment.
The NFL said its digital live-streaming viewership in China grew 17 percent in 2016 to 37 million unique viewers while video-on-demand jumped 52 percent to 282 million views, under contracts with previous partners.
“We are confident that this agreement will provide our growing number of Chinese fans with a better viewing experience and more opportunities for engagement with the NFL than ever before,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in the statement.
The deal allows the NFL to tap into Tencent’s growing digital ecosystem in China, which is headlined by its dominant WeChat messaging platform but includes online transactions, gaming, and other features.
The NFL remains hugely popular in the US market, generating $13 billion in revenue in 2016 — the highest among domestic sports leagues worldwide — but is also looking abroad for growth.
The NFL will stage four games in London in the coming season and a fifth in Mexico City.
It is targeting 2019 for a potential game in China and has brought over a series of top players to promote the league in recent years, including New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady in June.
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