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Inside the NFL’s Determination to Play in China As Soon As Possible

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BEIJING, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 28: Former NFL player Peyton Manning meets fans at Bird's Nest culture center on September 28, 2016 in Beijing, China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
Former NFL player Peyton Manning meets fans at Bird’s Nest culture center on September 28, 2016, in Beijing, China. (Getty Images)

 

With the outrage fresh over one NFL franchise taking a short trip north in California, behold a serious trek.

The NFL has long lusted after new markets. This last season alone, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell oversaw a total of four regular-season games being played in foreign markets. Yet the trip over to London is nothing compared to the big goal: playing a regular-season game in China.

On some level, this makes sense. After all, China has 1.3 billion people. Why not make every effort possible to connect with them? The result was that back in July the NFL quietly put out word they intended to have two NFL West teams play a regular-season game in China in 2018. (The rumored teams were the Rams and the 49ers, who after their disastrous seasons seem less a reward for foreign fans than a punishment.)

This game in China has yet to be confirmed. Why? Most likely, because while owners support this, in theory, they really don’t want their team to be the one forced on to the plane.

BEIJING, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 28:  Former NFL player Peyton Manning takes a selfie with fans at Bird's Nest culture center on September 28, 2016 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
Former NFL player Peyton Manning takes a selfie with fans at Bird’s Nest culture center on September 28, 2016 in Beijing, China. (VCG via Getty Images)

 

Albert Breer explored some of the challenges of the NFL’s proposed Chinese game for the Monday Morning Quarterback. He writes:

“First, there’s the logistics issue. Beijing is a 13-hour flight from Los Angeles and over 14 hours from New York (flying over the North Pole), a 15-hour time difference from the West Coast and a 12-hour time difference from the East Coast. Fitting that into an NFL team’s schedule would be challenging, to say the least.”

Consequently, NFL teams aren’t exactly lining up for this opportunity. Or, for that matter, any international game. Only one franchise has been consistently committed to amassing frequent flyer miles. That team is the Jacksonville Jaguars. Their website notes that in 2012 they “became the first (and only) team to make a multi-year commitment to play in the International Series Games, signing up for four fixtures from 2013-2016.”

In what is surely a complete coincidence, they are the worst NFL team during that span. Over those four years, their best record is 5-11. Indeed, the Jaguars haven’t had a winning record since 2007, the year the International Series Games began. (Again, sure it’s a coincidence.)

That said, whatever team dares to make this trek may see a massive payoff. The Dallas Cowboys aren’t just America’s Team: they’re Mexico’s Team too. Starting in the 1960s, they were the only NFL franchise to consistently appear on Mexican radio. The bond remains sturdy today. It’s one of the reasons that Dallas remains so remarkably popular. (One example of this popularity: Historically, when the Cowboys reach the Super Bowl, the game’s viewership spikes up over 10 million from the previous year.)

Mexico has a population less than a 10th of China’s. If an NFL team can somehow claim the lion’s share of those 1.3 billion, the jet lag and presumptive losses upon returning home may be worth it.

-Sean Cunningham for RealClearLife