One can't blame the Chinese for thinking the NBA is king in America though. America's actual favorite sport, football, is still a complete mystery to China.
From The Los Angeles Times:
When I was a young kid, I was always under the impression that the Super Bowl was the world's biggest sporting event. Sometime in the past several years though, I've come to realize that this is woefully inaccurate. It is, indeed, America's biggest sporting event, but it doesn't even make a peep elsewhere in the world.
Reporting from Beijing -- Super Bowl Sunday arrived in China's capital at daybreak Monday, but by kickoff it was standing room only at the Goose 'n' Duck, a British-style sports pub near sprawling Chaoyang Park in east Beijing.
The vast majority of the nearly 350 football fans who braved the frigid morning temperatures were expatriate Americans, many already with beer in hand despite the hour.
But in one corner of the two-story complex was a rabid group of Chinese fans watching the English-language broadcast with the help of two Mandarin-speaking commentators, perched on stools with microphones in hand, who had been hired by the National Football League.
The party, along with a gathering in Shanghai, was one small part of a six-year effort by the NFL to sell its sport in a country where the league has struggled to find a fan base.
Even at its own Super Bowl party, the challenges the NFL faces in China were on full display.
Although the Super Bowl was broadcast nationwide by state-run CCTV, Chinese authorities put it on a 30-minute delay, so organizers of the NFL party piped in a live feed from a Philippine satellite broadcaster. And though local fans were enthusiastic, they frequently stared blankly at TV screens during complicated penalties and on-field rulings.
As an American, I completely understand America's fascination with football. I grew up in Kansas City, which arguably has the best NFL fans in America. In addition to the supporting the Kansas City Chiefs, Kansas City is also instrumental in supporting the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and the University of Missouri football programs.
Where I grew up, football is a very serious past time.
But living for a significant period outside of Kansas City, and America for that matter, I have grown to see why (American) football has not and, most likely, will not take off outside of America.
The two things that I see as absolutely fatal death blows to football's popularity outside of America are its complicated rules and its constant stopping and starting.
The first difficulty for people who didn't grow up with football are its myriad of obscure rules. Even to someone who grew up with football, rules like intentional grounding, neutral zone infractions, and illegal shifting can be counter-intuitive and confusing. For people who are trying to get into the game for the first time, these rules are a major barrier of entry.
Next is the fact that, inherent in the nature of football, there is a constant starting and stopping throughout the whole game. One could very reasonably say that football never gets flowing. A short burst of activity happens (usually about five to ten seconds) and then is followed by a much longer period of down time (at least thirty seconds).
A blogger at Wired Magazine recently did an interesting study. He took a stop-watch and timed how much action actually occurs in an NFL game (he did the experiment during a Kansas City - Denver game). His results are pretty astounding:
So, during the two hours and 56 minutes the game took to complete, throughout the 60 minutes of regulation time, the ball was in only in play for 12 minutes and 8 seconds.The rest of the time, players were standing around, plays were being reviewed and I was being bombarded by a multitude of beer commercials and truck advertisements.I believe that this never-ending lack of action in a football game, which is endimic in the sport, cannot be changed. It is how the game is played.
As that study mentions, indirectly related to this constant stoppage in play are the ridiculous amount of commercial breaks that a viewer of a football game is subjected to. After living abroad and being away from football for a while, this really bothered me when I watched a bit of football while I was back home in December last year.
With commercials and a dragged out half-time, the average NFL game lasts a ridiculous three hours and fifteen minutes. College football games last even longer because the clock is stopped after every first down.
A couple years ago, I talked with an English bloke who'd studied at Pennsylvania State University. College football fans know that Penn State has one of the most storied traditions and best football teams in the country. Yet despite the great level of play this English man had been exposed to, he could not understand why everyone was so into American football. As he said, "People get together and stand around for three hours with an occasional play occurring on the field."
Despite the diatribe I'm currently going on against football, I am still a fan of the sport. Particularly, I like college football. I feel it has much more passion and pageantry than the NFL, which in recent years I've found to be stale.
My favorite team, the University of Kansas Jayhawks, have enjoyed an unprecedented amount of success (in their history) over the past few years. Getting to watch them from afar has been a treat.
I'm not saying football isn't worth watching or that Americans are silly for liking it. Instead, I'm saying that expecting people from abroad to sit down and watch a three hour plus game with all sorts of crazy rules being played by players and teams that they are vaguely familiar with is quite a tough sell.
And the NFL is having trouble getting a foot-hold in China for these very reasons.