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New league to take American football into China

Chinese sports authorities have entered into an agreement to launch the first American football league in the country.

In collaboration with US businessman Marty Judge and his Beijing-based firm Ganlan Media International (GMI), the Chinese Rugby Football Association (CRFA) has created the new indoor competition which will be known as the China American Football League (CAFL). Judge has also linked up with former National Football League (NFL) player Ron Jaworski and Super Bowl-winning coach Dick Vermeil for the venture.

The new CAFL competition plans to launch in 2015 with two conferences featuring six to eight teams from major cities in the country. Each team will feature players from both China and the US while each franchise owner will initially invest $10m (€7.5m) per team and receive a portion of television licensing rights.

Following the launch, plans are also in place to further expand the sport on a professional level throughout Asia. Judge’s long-term vision is to have 30 teams in China and eventually throughout Asia and Australia.

Organisers said they have opted for the arena-style game due to their belief the faster pace, higher scoring and ‘close-to-the-fans’ entertainment of indoor American football better suits the Chinese fanbase. Additionally, China has limited outdoor stadiums that are conducive to traditional American football as opposed to an abundance of high-calibre arenas.

Judge, who is the chief executive and founder of the Judge Group and co-owner of Arena Football League (AFL) franchise Philadelphia Soul, has been a long-term supporter of introducing a league in China. As part of his efforts, he set up AFL Global to help launch professional American arena football teams in China.

“With the backing of the Chinese government, the sky is the limit for how we can grow American football in the vast, untapped Chinese marketplace,” Judge said. "It is possible that someday the CAFL could be bigger in China than the NFL is here (in the US).

“China is going through a cultural change. They have the money to spend and a fast-growing interest in sports, especially American sports. They don’t have a professional sport like American football, a contact sport, and they are very receptive to what the CAFL will provide.”