China is the most important market for businesses looking to expand. This is drilled into your head as a business school student. China, China, China, China and China are the five most important markets. That’s what happens when there are over 1 billion people and a growing middle class. The NBA has made strong inroads into China. The NFL has struggled every step of the way. That doesn’t look like its going to change.
Any plans for a game in the Far East look like they are being completely scrapped. The main reason apparently is logistics. It is very difficult to get two teams back and forth to China in the middle of the season. The beginning of the season could cause issues for any team that wants a big home opener. It’s a grind on the players. The trip to London is six hours from New York City, and everyone already complains about that.
But let’s be honest here. If the NFL thought it could leverage its brand and make a ton of money off a game in China, logistics be damned. There was a Seahawks-Patriots game scheduled in 2007 that got scrapped. It was basically done, and fell apart. So the NFL’s business ties can’t be super strong in the region.
The NFL also has to deal with interest level. Mexico, Germany, Great Britain are the countries that make sense because there is already some interest. Using an American business model in China doesn’t guarantee anything — ask a lot of multi-national companies. Then there is that small issue about TV rights.
Let’s say ESPN gets awarded the game in China as part of its Monday Night Football deal. ESPN pays $1.9 billion per season. That breaks down to almost $112 million per game (1.9 divided by 17). The game in China isn’t going to pay dividends for them because it will have to be played at an odd hour. As MMQB’s Albert Breer pointed out, a Saturday game in China would be a Friday night game in the U.S.. Friday nights are the worst nights for major sporting events in terms of TV ratings.
This doesn’t even take into account that the other issues. The Chinese government is notoriously difficult to deal with. Human rights issues in China were looked over by the NBA, but the NFL has a target on its back already. The market may not be ready for NFL games.
There are so many issues the NFL needs to address before this can become a reality. The good news is, by holding off the NFL is making a smart business decision. There’s no reason to go in and waste money if it won’t be a success for the NFL. That is why it’s more plausible to look at other markets and take a step back on China.