Super Bowl LI definitely took up quite a bit of space on your WeChat moments back in February, and the NFL recently made another announcement that many of you no doubt heard about; a three year exclusive digital partnership with Tencent.
The NFL is the world's most valuable sports league, even more valuable than the Olympics or the World Cup. In the big four of American sports leagues, the NFL's fanbase is more than that of the other three leagues combined. In 2016, there were over 200 million viewers of NFL regular season games, covering 77% of American households, and 68% of all television viewership. The Super Bowl was broadcasted live in 170 countries, and in 20 different languages. There are many more impressive stats like this, showing how the growth of the NFL, but moreso American football in general, has begun to take off around the world. With regards to American football viewership in China, it is not too different, as the NFL the leader. But what about getting up close and personal with the game, getting to experience it firsthand? That's where the China Arena Football League (CAFL) comes in.
According to various online sources, as well as the Life in the Huddle WeChat account, in 2011, the only fully-padded American football teams in China were the Beijing Guardians and Shanghai Nighthawks. By 2013, a year after the founding of the CAFL, The American Football League of China (AFLC) was created, with 10 teams at the start. By 2014, there was a total of around 27 teams in China, with teams regularly practicing and playing games accounting for 18 of those. In 2017, there are now approximately 78 teams in China, with regular adult teams accounting for 59 of those, and college teams making up the final 19, covering almost every area of China. Most of these teams belong to one of China's four amateur American football leagues; for adults, the AFLC and the City Bowl, and for college teams, the CUAFL and AFU.
Today, China is one of the largest markets for sports, with over 300 million avid sports fans. With more and more people learning about American football, the future for the sport in China is bright, and the best example of this would be the China Arena Football League (CAFL).
The CAFL was founded in 2012 by Marty Judge. Its efforts to connect with Chinese fans and players have come on a very grassroots level. As an indoor game, the baseline costs for holding a game may be lower than for the NFL, with more fast-paced and exciting action. With 8 players on the field at a time per team, possessions change more quickly than in the outdoor game. Games are thus higher scoring, the audience is situated closer to the field, and the differences in rules definitely increase fan excitement.
When it comes to players, the CAFL began training potential athletes in 2013. From May of that year, the CAFL established a partnership with six Chinese universities, training athletes at the schools to become arena football players. And in the first CAFL Draft last year, many of these players were selected, validating their dreams of becoming professional American football players. To further increase the quality of the games, the CAFL also chose numerous coaches and players from the Arena Football League in the United States, to help increase the Chinese players' understanding of the game, and help them grow as American football players.
The CAFL is also able to avoid the issue of China not having any fields suitable for American football. The first CAFL Super Series utilized existing arenas in each team's home city. These arenas have seen many important games in the past, which was important for a new league like the CAFL, in that the league did not have to worry about finding a suitable venue to hold their games in, and it also provided fans with a complete game-day experience.
The NFL's new deal with Tencent will allow for more and more Chinese people to discover American football, and become fans, and the game's popularity and fanbase will no doubt increase because of this. For players and fans of the game here in China however, the CAFL is an opportunity for you to experience the game firsthand, up close and personal. You don't need to travel across an ocean to see professional American football, the game is right here in China! CAFL Super Series II is coming!