Should the NFL reconsider its interest in China?

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China fascinates American sports leagues, and for good reason. China has 1.4 billion people to whom American sports can be marketed, and from whom a lot of money can be made.

That’s why the NBA has embraced China, and that’s why the NFL has tried for more than a decade to figure out how to do the same.

The Patriots and Seahawks were supposed to play a game there in 2007, and then in 2009. It never happened, to the chagrin of Tom Brady. In recent years, reports have bubbled up about playing a game in China, but logistics (and concerns about air pollution) have gotten in the way.

Even now, the NFL has its eye on China, doing deals to distribute NFL content and striving to find a way to play one or more games there. In 2016, an indoor football league backed by Ron Jaworski and Dick Vermeil launched in China. And that’s when we posed for the first time a question that rarely has been asked: Why China?

China continues to be a communist regime, and its human-rights record remains atrocious. But the sheer concentration of human beings who can eventually be placed under the sports spell makes it very fertile ground for the NFL.

But given the wildfire that started with a simple tweet from the G.M. of one NBA team, the NFL probably is feeling somewhat relieved that it’s currently not embroiled in an international incident that threatens to choke off the golden goose the NBA has been nurturing there.

From a business standpoint, it’s far better to have never exploited a market than to be there and lose it. As money flows from that new market, budgets, expectations, and high-level executive incomes adjust accordingly. When that market goes away, as it may for the NBA, that’s a major problem.

So maybe it’s better for the NFL to never build up something that could be so easily squandered. Once that market exists, the NFL won’t want to lose it, which could mean engaging in the kind of self-censorship that undermines the overall integrity of the operation.

It makes much more sense to focus on expanding to countries with governments that properly respect the rights of its people. But the NFL has 1.4 billion reasons to continue to be tempted to find a way to cultivate more and more fans in China, even if the transaction includes eventually forfeiting a slice of its soul.

40 responses to “Should the NFL reconsider its interest in China?

  1. The greed for even more riches is simply pathetic, no matter the harm. But what is even more sickening, is the fans, who keep throwing money towards this greedy league of owneers

  2. If you think for one minute that the NFL is going to crack the Chinese Iron Curtain with any freedom messages that will take hold, you might want to take a look at what is going on in Hong Kong right now.

    The NFL can go there if they wish, but make no mistake; there will be no freedom of speech, freedom of religion or any other messages tolerated that could possibly be seen as going against the Chinese communist government. I’d prefer that the NFL not play the role of “useful idiot” in the Chinese government’s exploitation game.

  3. American firms should stop trying to skim off the meager earnings of 1.4B subjugated people and instead get on board with liberating 1.4B people… Much much more money to be made afterwards.

  4. The NFL will truly lose its soul (if it ever had one) if it turns a blind eye and chases Chinese dollars. China is a totalitarian Communist regime that still runs concentration camps and brutally supresses it’s people.

  5. Would be tough to market American football in Asia period.

    Most countries there already have some sort of basketball league.

    American football is kind of a one off and is more of a novelty outside North America-London included.

  6. NFL coaches would be very good in dealing with China. They are expected to take a very China friend approach at the post-game pressers after the zebras have botched key calls costing the ballgame.

  7. When is enough money enough. I’ve never understood why someone with billions of dollars wants more. It’s rumored the NFL has more money than it could possibly spend but it still wants more. It’s not like they’re taking care of former players who’ve been disabled after too many hits to the head now is it?

  8. China’s state TV station said this in regards to Adam Silver’s (second statement):

    “We believe that any speech that challenges national sovereignty and social stability is not within the scope of freedom of speech.”

    Coming from a notoriously brutal, authoritarian regime, that kind of says it all, doesn’t it? For an American sports league to partner with China would be deeply immoral and antithetical to American beliefs.

    In other words, the NFL will jump all over it.

  9. It is possible to do business with an entity without endorsing every aspect of that entity’s behavior. Say it with me. Doing business in China does not mean you support communism.

  10. The NFL should use Dennis Rodman, self appointed US Ambassador to N. Korea. Kim Jung-un nutcase dictator and Dennis are “friends . He could hop across the border and straighten out the Chinese, actually for the NFL and NBA. What the heck, the NHL and women’s soccer.

  11. The NBA embarrassed itself with this whole incident. I can’t believe the way they fell all over themselves to apologize for offending this terrible government. Silver’s statement was too little, too late.

  12. therealraider says:
    October 9, 2019 at 10:28 am
    Communism is Socialism’s big brother.


    I know you’re trying to scare people with “The Big S!” But the civil liberties of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark are more akin to USA than China.

  13. Seeing as the NFL has problems endorsing free speech of its players in the US, I don’t see why China poses such a big issue.

    Jokes aside, selling and promoting broadcasting rights is a near zero risk proposition. The NBA has made China a major priority. China is just another (big) market for the NFL.

  14. Nobody was even paying attention to this until South Park slammed Hollywood for bending to Chinese censorship. Hollywood was trying to extract dollars from the Chinese long before professional sports got into it.

  15. The NFL needs to stay away from playing games there and getting into bed w China. The thought was when China was opened that doing business there over time we would pass our American ideals open them. The exact opposite has happened. It’s 2019 and communism is still alive and strong in China. As last South Park episode about how Disney and Hollywood are in business w China and in doing so r allowing their content to be monitored while they r writing it and everything deemed inappropriate from the Chinese government finds inappropriate. So instead of us spending our values to them every company who does business w China has instead adopted all of China’s ideals and if u say one thing they don’t like as China said I. A statement yesterday how free speech in essence should not be allowed as in disrespectful and an impedance to the Chinese government. We should all pull outta China as their views are so contradictory to everything America stands for. Time to close China

  16. The NBA just needs to grow a pair. China can threaten all they want but there is only one place to get their product and taking that product away will cause more issues with their public. Can’t rule over a billion people who are angry, that has been the case throughout history. NBA should have just ignored China on their whining and this would have blown over by now.

    The other option would be to sever ties but don’t bend over backwards to support oppression.

  17. They need to focus trying to overcome on the Rams, Chargers, Raiders debacle. They don’t talk about it much but it has been a major factor in their continuing downfall.

  18. I’ve been a Saints fan for 20-plus years, and it has absolutely nothing to do with being able to attend a game. I started following the team while living in West Virginia, and it was years before I saw them play in person.

    My enthusiasm for the team and the NFL in general is exponentially increased when I’m able to watch the games on TV. I became a more avid fan when I moved to a place where there were sports bars showing all of the games, and now I have the Sunday Ticket streaming package, which is even better.

    So just do some marketing and make it easy for fans in China, and everywhere else, to watch the games — on a TV, computer, or whatever device they prefer.

    There’s no need to play there in person.

  19. Absolutely. While what he said was probably better left unsaid, there’s some validity to what he said. The Chinese government is very oppressive. Here was part of their response to cancelling the events.

    “We’re strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right to freedom of expression,” the statement read. “We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.”

    So not only are they oppressive of what their own citizens say, they want to oppress the free speech of everyone who disagrees with them. This is reminiscent of Cold War Russia and the other East Bloc countries. Why would we want to do business with a regime that so blatantly abuses human rights? It’s not like the NFL needs China.

  20. Just say no. The NFL Country-Club Socialist model will play poorly in the Workers’ Paradise.

  21. Everyone condemning business with China by posting online with their smartphones made in China, wearing clothes made in China, etc. Every American profits off of China’s lack of human rights , so to claim the moral high ground is stupid.

  22. I don’t mind at all games in Europe, Mexico, Canada, but China is one place I would draw the line. I’ve been there and they will find the world promised to them and very little delivered. Production will be substandard. The playing field will be substandard. The amount of aggravation will be enormous.

    Not to mention if anyone dares to say anything about any political issue they will see the Chinese government go nuts just like they did on the NBA. South Park said it all.

    No NFL, no China

  23. “But the civil liberties of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark are more akin to USA than China.”

    Sweden and Denmark are heavily capitalist nations with a strong safety net. Sweden is one of the most capitalist nations on Earth period. They are nations with strong, consistent regulations that still provide plenty of opportunity for their citizens.

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