China will stage a regular-season NFL game “down the road” as American football targets a more global fanbase, the sport’s top figure in the country told AFP on Wednesday.
New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady said during a visit to Beijing and Shanghai this week that it was his “dream” to play a game in China before he retires.
Richard Young, managing director of NFL China, said despite several challenges: “We really believe that a regular-season game is the right way to go because you want to see the real thing (and not an exhibition game) and China demands the real thing and we want to respect that growing fanbase.”
Last year, reports said that the NFL was working to stage a game in China in 2018.
“To get a real game over here, you have to understand that teams only have eight home games so one team is going to have to give up one eighth of their home-team schedule, which is a difficult thing,” Young said.
He said the logistics are difficult, but “not impossible”.
“They’ve got to fly a long, long way and then go back (to the United States) and compete the next week in a very physical sport.
“So do I think it is going to happen in the future? Yes, I do. But it’s down the road and we need a lot of things to sort out before we’re going to have the game.”
Young added that before China hosts a game, American football needed to become “relevant” in the country, adding: “We need to make the sport less foreign.”
The NFL, which is enjoying growing popularity in China but has dwindling participation numbers at youth level in the United States, is already branching out abroad.
There will be four games in London in the coming season and the fifth game of the International Series will take place in Mexico City.
Germany and Brazil have also been touted as potential future hosts.
Asked by AFP in Shanghai if a regular-season game in China was inevitable one day soon, the five-time Super Bowl champion Brady said: “I hope so. I think you need to start with small goals and work up to that.
“To play a game, who knows? Logistically it might be challenging… but I am hoping to have the opportunity to come one day and I am going use the knowledge I have had of being here — the culture and what the fans want — to achieve that.
“It would be a great experience.”
Brady, who turns 40 in August before the start of his 18th NFL campaign, and the Patriots were set to play a pre-season contest in China in 2007, a year before Beijing hosted the Olympics.
But the game against the Seattle Seahawks was cancelled by the NFL to focus on the debut of regular-season games in London later that year.
Asked Tuesday who he would like to play against in China, Brady replied: “The Seahawks!”
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