The National Football League, one of the most popular sports leagues in the United States, plans to expand its influence on the mainland in the upcoming season by offering free video-streaming via the popular internet hub Sina.com. Mainland viewers will be able to watch at least one live broadcast of a game every week through the website, plus several locally made shows of NFL highlights. Michael Stokes, the league's chief representative on the mainland, confirmed the deal with Sina.com was signed this month but refused to say how much the league had to pay to air their games. 'The price is reasonable and we feel like it is a big step forward for us, because through the website we are going to be able to reach a much wider range of people,' Mr Stokes said. Funding for NFL China's marketing campaign came solely from the league, many of whose billionaire team owners have long urged league administrators to move aggressively into the Chinese market. In addition to the online video streaming, NFL China will continue to have its games on major mainland television sports channels during the NFL season from September to February. Industry sources said the NFL also had to pay those television stations to broadcast the games. The situation is in stark contrast to the case in the US, where big television stations such as NBC, CBS, Fox and ESPN pay billions of dollars to carry NFL games. Viewers outside the mainland will also be able to watch the NFL games through the league's site but they have to pay close to US$200 a season for access. Mr Stokes said the NFL was being realistic in tapping the mainland market, despite the sport's dominance in the US. 'We understand people in this country do not really know a lot about our sport and it certainly takes time for them to catch up and start enjoying the games,' he said. Compared with the much more popular National Basketball Association, which has had a mainland presence for 20 years, the NFL only launched its office in Beijing last year. The NFL does not have its poster-boy equivalent of the NBA's Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian to promote its games on the mainland, but Mr Stokes insisted the disadvantage could also be a bonus for the team sport. 'One star basketball player can get it all done on the court, but in the NFL nobody can do it alone. The NFL always emphasises teamwork and partnership, a culture that could definitely fit well with Chinese culture that features more about the team rather than a one-man show,' he said. Market analysts argue that NFL games, with their heavily padded players, are too physical for mainland viewers to accept, but Mr Stokes insisted that from the response of mainland sport fans to NFL China's website and other market surveys, mainland viewers were not opposed to the physicality. 'It's amazing to me that American boxing matches broadcast live on television every Sunday afternoon are one of the most-watched games in China. So we are convinced that whether physical or not is not the issue and the key is that the game has to be good,' Mr Stokes said. 'Fortunately, the NFL does have plenty of good games to offer.'