One of America's greatest athletes ever -- Barry Sanders in China to promote American football.
Tags:reuters,american football,barry sanders,china,Mark Thomas,national football league,Xiao Yuhao
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One of America's greatest athletes ever -- Barry Sanders in China to promote American football. (SOUNDBITE) (English) FORMER NFL PLAYER, BARRY SANDERS, SAYING: "I would never have imagined, I would have never have imagined that one day I'd be going to China on behalf of the NFL. You know, I think it just shows you the great game that it is." (SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS REPORTER, JANE LANHEE LEE SAYING: "From basketball to sports car racing, global sports marketing giants have been reaching into the pockets of the Chinese for a lucrative future. But American Football?" The National Football League has been actively pushing it here for the past three years. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MANAGING DIRECTOR OF NFL CHINA, RICHARD YOUNG, SAYING: "It's gonna be a long road. We understand that. We're lucky to be a successful league and have, to be able to make those long term decisions at this time. But we've seen the growth." Today NFL games air on 19 channels across China, and 44 university teams actually play American Football here. Xiao Yuhao is quarterback for the Ravens of Shanghai University. He got hooked at 11 watching the games on TV. So what's the reaction of family and friends? (SOUNDBITE) (English) QUARTERBACK, SHANGHAI UNIVERSITY RAVENS, XIAO YUHAO, SAYING: "They first thought that American football was a game of bashing and worried about getting hurt. But they later understood that American football is a very competitive sport so they support me now." The NFL is aiming to crack the top ten sports in China by number of fans by 2020. It says it's19th today with 5 million true fans. Pie in the sky? Sports marketer Mark Thomas. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MANAGING DIRECTOR, S2M GROUP, MARK THOMAS, SAYING: "I think, in terms of getting Chinese people to play NFL, I honestly think it's pretty close to zero. If there was some involvement in NFL, it would follow probably the franchise format whereby one day sometime many years in the future the fan base in China builds up to such an extent that it can actually service a proper franchise to be based here." So a lot more cheerleading will be needed before the NFL can truly tackle the Chinese market.