China foot­ball league thrilled with de­but

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - By WIL­LIAM HENNELLY in New York williamhen­nelly@ chi­nadai­lyusa.com

Any doubts about how Chi­nese play­ers would adapt to Amer­i­can foot­ball were put to rest dur­ing the China Arena Foot­ball League’s (CAFL) de­but sea­son, re­cently capped off by an ex­cit­ing cham­pi­onship game.

Ken Bozarth, vice-pres­i­dent of oper­a­tions for AFL Global, par­ent of the CAFL, was sur­prised at how well the Chi­nese play­ers per­formed. The league’s six teams were evenly di­vided be­tween Amer­i­can and Chi­nese play­ers. Arena foot­ball is played in­doors with eight play­ers a side.

In the Nov 6 cham­pi­onship game, dubbed the China Bowl, the Bei­jing Lions de­feated the Qing­dao Clip­per, 35-34, on a field goal on the last play.

Bozarth told China Daily that coaches “came into camp with many ques­tions and con­cerns (How will we com­mu­ni­cate? How will the Chi­nese play­ers pick up the game?)”. Those un­cer­tain­ties were “put to rest quicker than they could have imag­ined”.

“We tested their coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with some­thing they have never had to do,” he said. “They ad­justed well and it showed on the field. The im­prove­ments the Chi­nese play­ers made over the six weeks be­long to the teach­ings they re­ceived daily from our coach­ing staff.

“Our US play­ers came into the sea­son with the same ques­tions as coaches. Room­ing with Chi­nese play­ers I be­lieve cre­ated a bond and com­fort that re­ally helped to speed the process on and off the field,” Bozarth said. “Not only was this a foot­ball sea­son, but a cul­tural ex­change pro­gram. The play­ers have now formed life­long friends and know so much more about one an­other’s cul­ture.

“If you’ve had a chance to catch any of the games, you would have dif­fi­culty at times iden­ti­fy­ing who was Chi­nese and who was Amer­i­can,” Bozarth said. “The Chi­nese came into this sea­son crav­ing to learn the game and were sponges soak­ing up any­thing they could from our US play­ers and coach­ing staffs.”

The ques­tion whether Chi­nese play­ers can play Amer­i­can foot­ball “has been put to rest”, Bozarth said. “The Chi­nese play­ers now will only im­prove and pro­vide the foun­da­tion of the CAFL for years to come. Hav­ing the China Bowl come down to the fi­nal play was just an ex­cla­ma­tion point on a truly amaz­ing sea­son!”

The league had three goals for its first sea­son: ed­u­ca­tion, en­gage­ment and en­ter­prise, David Niu, pres­i­dent of AFL Global, told China Daily.

“We were ex­cited about the three ar­eas of our busi­ness that we wanted to es­tab­lish and grow; ed­u­ca­tion — teach­ing the game and pro­vid­ing a base of un­der­stand­ing for Amer­i­can foot­ball; en­gage­ment — play­ers ac­tu­ally play­ing the game (our Chi­nese play­ers were ex­cep­tional and will in­spire other lo­cals to play) and de­vel­op­ing the par­tic­i­pant base, and fi­nally, en­ter­prise — build­ing the busi­ness of foot­ball in China, Niu said.

“We were able to reach a large au­di­ence of old and new Amer­i­can foot­ball fans in China through our events and me­dia pro­grams,” Niu said. “We have en­cour­aged a new gen­er­a­tion of fans to play the game in their com­mu­ni­ties in the cities … and via the lo­cal re­la­tion­ships we de­vel­oped.

“We av­er­aged 4,000 to 5,000 fans per game, which was our tar­get goal for at­ten­dance of 12,000 to 15,000 per week­end (for three games),” Niu said. “Bei­jing and Shang­hai were amaz­ing and by far our big­gest crowds for the se­ries opener and China Bowl week­end.

Niu said an­other goal was es­tab­lish­ing broad­cast and me­dia part­ner­ships and na­tional and lo­cal spon­sor­ship.

CAFL

Bei­jing Lions play­ers cel­e­brate their vic­tory over the Qing­dao Clip­per in the in­au­gu­ral China Bowl on Sun­day and hoist The Martin Judge Jr Tro­phy.

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