The NFL wants — and needs — to expand their brand internationally. While leagues such as the NHL, NBA, and MLB have natural international targets due to international players, the NFL does not. Sure games are played in London, and recently Mexico City, but the NFL doesn’t have the same reach into Asia or even continental Europe. The league’s crown jewel target is obviously China with is billion-plus population and burgeoning middle class, but the NFL has stubbed its toe every step along the way in bringing football to China. Now a convenient excuse is being propped up: pollution.
According to Sports Business Journal reporter Dan Kaplan, the NFL is extremely concerned about the air quality in China and how it will affect the athletes on the field.
Anyone who has been to China knows that air pollution is a huge concern. Go to Beijing or Shanghai on the wrong day, and there’s a chance you’re engulfed in smog. It’s unhealthy for tourists and residents, nevermind athletes trying to perform at a high level.
The NFL has wanted to get into China for over 10 years. The NFL cancelled its 2007 China Bowl, and the Patriots — Robert Kraft is the biggest backer of expansion into Asia — shut down their office in 2008. Since then, there have been a lot of starts and stops. It’s not looking good if the goal is to play a game there in the near future.
The NFL needs to find a breaking point. Either they have to understand that a game in China will be played under extremely difficult circumstances including travel, bye weeks, and air quality, or give up. Giving up isn’t really an option. The game in Mexico City is not only played at high altitude, but the city itself is well known for its air quality/pollution. It’s much easier to get in and out of Mexico City though.
In the end the NFL is going to realize that they can’t create a perfect situation if they want to enter the Chinese market. China’s two largest domed stadiums — Ordos and Nantong — only hold slight above 30,000 seats and aren’t near major metropolitan centers Shanghai or Beijing so they are out. That means dealing with air pollution or looking for other Asian markets to enter.