Football is king in the United States, but its mighty empire is poised to move into China in the near future.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, an agreement is in place for China to form its first American football league:
Chinese sports authorities have entered into an agreement to create the first football league in the country’s history.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 14, 2014
ESPN's Darren Rovell is reporting that the proposed China American Football League will have some big-name backing as well:
Arena league co-owner Marty Judge, with Ron Jaworski & Dick Vermeil, announce plans for football in China next year pic.twitter.com/s3xBywkCVj— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) August 14, 2014
Arena Football League co-owner Marty Judge, former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski and former Super Bowl-winning NFL head coach Dick Vermeil are all influential people within the sport of football. Their presence figures to give the league instant credibility.
Per Erik Matuszewski of Bloomberg.com, the new league is scheduled to officially launch with its first game in September 2015. It will be an indoor league featuring AFL rules, and there are expected to be six to eight teams.
Matuszewski is also reporting that the rosters will be a mix of 12 Chinese and eight American players, with many of the Americans coming from the Arena League itself.
Will American football be a success in China?
Despite the AFL's relative obscurity in the United States, Judge is confident that it will thrive in China, according to Matuszewski.
"The AFL is not as successful in the U.S. as the NFL is, but indoor football and arena football is just going to take China by storm," Judge said.
Judge is also of the mind that indoor football is a logical fit in China due to the fact that it already has the infrastructure in place to support it.
"China is more geared to arena football because they don't have the stadiums built," Judge said. "They have arenas in every major city and there's 20 cities bigger than New York that already have government-owned arenas built."
Judge already tested the waters by holding an exhibition between two AFL All-Star teams in Beijing back in November. Despite there being well over one billion people in the country, China is a largely untapped market in terms of American football.
Steve Forbes of Forbes.com was quick to react to the news, claiming, "What Judge has achieved is extraordinary."
Jaworski is confident that this foray into China will ultimately be a successful and lucrative one for all involved, per Matuszewski. He said:
This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring our great sport to China, and to do it with the cooperation of the Chinese government. I strongly believe American football will meet the insatiable sports demand from the Chinese growing consumer base, especially among the younger people.
If the CAFL is met with excitement and takes off as expected, then Judge is hopeful that the league can eventually expand to as many as 30 teams and move into other Asian countries such as South Korea as well.
There is no question that this is a huge, unprecedented undertaking, but it makes sense, considering that football is starting to become a globalized sport. It is already hugely popular in North America, but it has permeated Europe as well.
With NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell potentially looking to put an NFL team in London at some point in the next five years, according to Reuters (h/t The Guardian), the popularity of the sport is at an all-time high.
Basketball is a largely American sport, but it has become huge in China thanks to the Chinese Basketball Association. If the China American Football League can make a similar impact, then the growth of the sport will reach unseen heights.
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