NFL Season Preview in China – How to Build on 2015
American Football is the biggest and most engaging sport in the United States. The NFL is the world’s most commercially valuable sport organization, yet the NFL’s greatest challenge is to take this potential overseas. China will become the NFL’s second largest market, but how can they break into this market in the same way that the NBA did way back in the 1990’s?
According to the NFL, over the last 4 years they have gained 14 million new fans in China through a strong online to offline strategy. On Chinese social media, the #SuperBowl49# hashtag was the number one most trending topic on Weibo, reaching over 130 million total reads as they launched their official T-Mall store. Meanwhile, offline activation, including NFL Football Weekend, Truck Tour and a University Flag Football League resulted in over 75 million viewers for the regular season, with a monster crowd of 20 million for the Super Bowl itself.
HOW TO BUILD ON 2015
So how can the NFL now build on the past season to catch up with their Western counterparts?
Expand Online Presence
The easiest way for the NFL to grow in China is by launching the remaining 24 teams online, as well as several star players. Chinese fans are extremely fickle and will follow a team according to where the best players play. By launching new teams and increasing the number of brand touchpoints, the NFL can inspire a new generation of fans to follow their favorite team and player.
The NFL is already free to view on several networks in China including PPTV and LeTV, however, Game Pass would provide Chinese fans with access to classic games from previous years for the NFL’s core fan base and act as an educational tool for the casual sports fans. This would be invaluable with regards to transforming these casual fans in China to a loyal fan base, as well as an extra revenue source for the NFL.
The NFL should expand its current series of offline events to multiple regions in China, instead of only the Tier 1 cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou. By hosting these events, in particular viewing parties and flag-football leagues with legends in attendance, the NFL will bring new potential fans together to create a connection with the sport, and in turn, new fans will be born.
Education is exactly what’s needed for current sports fans who reject NFL simply claiming,“I don’t understand the game”. Summer camps and American Football schools are a feasible option for the NFL to consider, and would break through the current barrier of Chinese fans misunderstanding the sport.
NFL Game in China
The biggest way for the NFL to break into China will be to host a pre-season game in China. The NBA has two scheduled preseason games in Shanghai and Shenzhen this October, meanwhile 10 European football teams visited China this summer to take part in preseason tournaments. Making an NFL match available to all Chinese fans would be a huge milestone for the NFL and would give the Chinese their first taste of live professional American Football.