Excitement is building in Atlanta ahead of Super Bowl LIII (53) as the New England Patriots prepare to take on the LA Rams. Millions will tune in to watch the season finale across the globe including fans in China.
Viewership figures in China are rising, prompting talk that the NFL could play a regular season game there.
CGTN’s Dan Williams reports from Atlanta-the city hosting this year’s championship.
Super Bowl weekend has long been more than just a game.
The eyes of America are fixed firmly on Atlanta this weekend, but increasingly, the interest in the NFL has grown way beyond U.S. borders.
London has hosted regular-season NFL games since 2007, while Mexico City has hosted two games.
“Fret not, fans of football south of the border: The NFL will return to Mexico City in 2019.”
The league and Mexico’s President-Elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador confirmed Monday the third and final game of the existing agreement between the league and nation (signed in 2016) will be played in 2019 at Estadio Azteca, per an NFL release.
That raises the prospect of an NFL match in China-a nation where interest in the NFL has increased significantly in recent years.
“When we do it, we want to do it right. It’s got to be part of a longer-term strategic initiative inside of China,” said Richard Young, the Managing Director of NFL China. “I think you would easily say it is a ‘when,’ not an ‘if.’ But, it’s a lot of consideration to making sure it is 100 percent right for the fans in China, as well. We do not want to disappoint.”
The NFL fan base in China is growing.
The league’s commissioner says viewership of regular season games was up 70 percent this season. The number of viewers watching the conference finals increased 170 percent.
The New England Patriots played a regular season match in Mexico in 2017.
The prospect of doing the same in China appeals to some players.
“When you think about the opportunity to go to China – with all the people and all the fans that are there and allow them to experience the game first hand – that would be fantastic,” said New England Patriots Wide Receiver Matthew Slater. “I would be excited if I was a player on the team that was going over there.”
Although the appetite to take a game to China is clearly there from the NFL, obstacles remain before that becomes a reality, not least persuading the franchise owners to approve it.
“They are swimming in money. The NFL makes so much money from TV that they can pay their entire player payroll just with the TV money,” said Sports Radio Host Brian Berger. “Everything else is just gravy to them. So there’s not really an urgency for them to expand their business and their footprint, because things are going so well for them here in the United States.”
For now, the football focus is on Atlanta and Super Bowl 53, but in the future the Chinese may get a chance to share some of this NFL excitement in one of their own stadiums.