The NFL is moving the ball, but hasn't yet scored, in China

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Tensions may be on the rise over China's new air defense identification zone, but there are still other areas where relations between Americans and Chinese are improving, like football! Yeah, the NFL is in China on a slow mission for a long pass. Richard Young is the managing director of NFL China.

Richard Young: We see certainly do see an opportunity in China. It's a huge market. And we believe that we are actually making quite a big impact here. We have about nine million people in China who have varying levels of interest in the NFL, about three million of those as fans. So it's still a small percentage of 1.4 billion, but when you're one in a million over here, there's 1,300 other people just like you, so.

Werman: So how common is it to actually see a football game somewhere in China, I mean have you ever stumbled into a game?

Young: I wouldn't say it's common, but in the major cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, most notably, you are seeing it more and more. There are youth leagues in each of those cities. We also run a 36 university flag football league. We just had our championships in Guangzhou and that was televised on Guangdong TV to 138 million people in the province and then nation-wide on their digital cable channel and that's where we had Joe Montana come down.

Werman: What kind of impression did Joe Montana make, he of the famous 49ers? Did the Chinese know who he was?

Young: They did! You know, he's obviously one of the greatest players ever. I'm not sure if everybody who met with him knew exactly what all of his achievements were, but a lot of people went back and I think they googled him and you saw more and more people coming out. Yes, he was extremely well received.

Werman: Tell me about some of the kids in China who are playing this game. Were you seeing real hope?

Young: Yeah, in China, flag football is where you see a lot of the athleticism. This year, we actually had Chinese Traditional Medicine University become the champions and they did it beautifully. They executed their plays brilliantly, their defense shifted around, gave them different looks, so that it kept them off-balance. I still think that the team work, which is what American football is all about, really came together and that was great to see.

Werman: Wow, Traditional Medicine University, they're the champs?

Young: Yeah, the Guangzhou Traditional Chinese Medicine University. They are the 5th annual University Bowl of China champions.

Werman: Have you spoken with Chinese fans and what do they tell you about why they're drawn to football?

Young: Yeah, we speak to them every day. They appreciate the depth and the complexity that they can really study for their whole lives and not completely understand it. The kind of excitement that the return on the investment of their free time that the game gives.

Werman: How's your Chinese, by the way? Is it good enough to shout out a play in a huddle?

Young: I'm not sure whether the play is going to be great, but most of the time and actually when they shout out the plays in the huddles, they're using numbers and colors. And English words.

Werman: Really?

Young: Yeah, it's not that...

Werman: So it'd be like "red, 46, 42"?

Young: Yeah, a lot that, yeah.

Werman: Richard Young, managing director of NFL China, thanks for staying up late there in Shanghai for us. Appreciate it.

Young: No problem. Nice speaking to you.

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