NFL propaganda would shame the most patriotic Beijing cadres

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 February, 2007, 12:00am

While another edition of the American colossus known as the Super Bowl is officially behind us, the good folks who brought you this corporate orgy masquerading as a football game have decided that domestic consumption is nice and all, but the world is much bigger than Battle Creek, Iowa, and Bartonville, Texas. So despite global weariness to the notion of it, there is more American imperialism in our near future. Are you ready for some football, China?

The NFL will hold its first ever game in China in August when the New England Patriots play the Seattle Seahawks in the China Bowl in Beijing. I can hardly contain my enthusiasm. After all, the announcers during the Super Bowl kept reiterating that one billion people were watching. Naturally, some had to be in places like Harbin and Tianjin because critical mass demands it. Consider that in the US the estimated audience was 93.15 million, roughly one third of the country, making it the second most-watched Super Bowl ever. So that leaves another 900 million people who were, apparently, watching the Super Bowl as well.

Now we have to look at where else American football is popular in the world. There are pockets of interest in Europe, particularly in England which will host a regular-season game for the first time later this year. Some people in Germany are curious and apparently a few Spaniards as well. But France? American popular culture? Forget it. If you took all the people who were watching the Super Bowl in Europe, Canada, Central and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea it might - and again this is very generous - total 100 million.

That still leaves 800 million viewers unaccounted for, which means roughly one third of China and a little less than half the people of India had to be watching to ensure an audience of one billion. I'm not even sure there are 800 million people in China and India who have electricity.

There is only one sports event that can rightfully claim a viewership in the billions and that is the soccer World Cup. So next time one of the NFL's missionaries comes calling out here telling you that one billion people were watching the Super Bowl, you tell him he's full of the same stuff Fido dumps on the sidewalk.

And while it's nice that such a bona fide American institution like the NFL has foreign ambition, the propaganda they are spreading would even embarrass the most shameless cadres in Beijing. 'Younger Chinese fans like the colourful uniforms and the cheerleaders and the electric atmosphere,' Gordon Smeaton, vice-president of NFL International, said last year when then commissioner Paul Tagliabue visited China. 'What we are finding is that the Chinese really love the strategy. It's a battle for territory and if you make that clear to them, the game starts to make a lot more sense.'

When asked if there would come a day when we would see a quarterback from China in the league, Tagliabue said: 'That would be perfect, maybe we could call him Yao Fling.' Frankly, they have a better chance of finding a working blueprint for democracy in China then they do Yao Fling. Quarterbacks in the NFL have been playing the position since birth. It's perhaps the most complex and difficult position in professional sports and I don't care how many trees you shake in a country of 1.3 billion people, a quarterback won't fall out of any of them. It was much different with Yao Ming and basketball.

Basketball was one of the few vestiges of western culture to survive the Cultural Revolution and the reason it did was because by the 1960s the game was so ingrained in Chinese society it was no longer viewed as western. It was a domestic sport which, ironically, became a tool for propaganda. Mao himself commissioned posters of towering Chinese players shooting over Western hoopsters.

How the NFL fits into an emerging China is beyond baffling. Religious missionaries used to think that cultivating faith in the rank and file in China would be simple as well. But at least the NFL missionaries are preaching the right gospel: money is religion in the new China.

You bring some foreign capital into the country and you get noticed in a hurry. So pack up all your comely cheerleaders in their most revealing attire, bring your super-sized behemoths as well and make sure we get lots of shots of New England's pretty boy quarterback Tom Brady on the Great Wall. But make sure you bring lots of money, when the NFL circus rolls into Beijing. Because by my reckoning, you are still a good 800 million short of a billion and there really is nowhere else you can make that number up other than in places like Wuhan and Shenyang.