Aussie Football Makes Waves in China, Ahead of NFL

AFL in ChinaFaster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall men in a single bound, look, up in the sky, it's AFL footy. In what is bigger than any religion Down Under, AFL Football is making a surprise inroad in the world's most populous country, leaving major codes like the NFL for dead.

2010 saw China play host to Australia's biggest sporting code as the Melbourne Demons played the Brisbane Lions in what became a thrilling encounter in Shanghai. What eventuated was a landmark TV deal, an online AFL Chinese community, 7100 Chinese spectators and a commitment from the local Shanghai government to support further games.

All this delivered by a sport relatively unknown to most parts around the world. Yet if you ask any Australian what is the most entertaining and thrilling sport, most would enthusiastically say: "Why AFL of course."

Although the game has limited participation potential in Mainland China, the exercise created a major 'bridging cultures' exercise. The AFL, having the foresight to see beyond immediate 'tangible' benefits, are now reaping a flurry of Chinese media and community exposure both in Australia and the mainland. If at all the objective was to get AFL footy (as they call it) on the map with the Australia-Chinese community, then it certainly delivered on that front. Although having to host it in China, the vision to develop the online Chinese-AFL website driven by Chinese social media, housing a plethora of Chinese content designed to educate and promote footy, was a major step forward.

AFL in ChinaMandarin speaking Chinese in Australia is now topping 600,000, most of which reside in the two key cities of Melbourne and Sydney. In Australia that represents roughly 5% of the total Australian population, which provides a significant opportunity for growth within the Australian domestic market. Participation with Chinese is low, however, those levels should improve significantly as exposure grows and more connections are made with existing Chinese AFL footy fans that can support the promotion of the game in Australia and China.

Talent and broadcast opportunities are obvious outcomes with bridging this culture divide. By taking the first step towards what we can assume will be a 100+ year relationship, the AFL has shown the Chinese community they are serious about engaging with them, both locally on a grass roots educational level and in terms greater cultural integration; going to the footy on a weekend is a great past time which everyone can enjoy.

So what next for the AFL? Only time will tell yet a legacy has been left with mainland Chinese fans finding it difficult to ignore as 2011 sees a live AFL game on free to air TV for each of the 22 home and away season rounds. Back in Australia, 'footy' is everywhere and it's difficult to engage with any mainstream media without learning about the week's footy news. Perhaps now as the league builds on what became "The Year AFL Went To China," this growing power may take notice of what could be. Who knows, we could have a Chinese AFL star sooner than we think.

A short video of the press covering the landmark AFL game can be seen here.

For more insights, trends, and strategies connecting with a Chinese consumer see Mailman.

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  • Pete

    Actually, only in the imaginations of the relatively few NRL supporters does the NRL come close to the AFL. The facts are the AFL obliterates the NRL in attendances, ratings, participation and revenue and always has. NRL fans are facing the very real prospect the NRL will be defunct within another generation due to their own endemic problems and feel threatened by the AFL. NRL fans have recently been whipped into a frenzy of hatred of the AFL and thus feel the need to rail against the AFL and spread misinformation at every available opportunity.

  • Josh

    Whilst I admire the vision of the AFL the facts cited here are frankly thin on the ground. A good portion of that crowd was not Chinese. And when you ask 'any Australian' what the 'most entertaining and thrilling sport' you could get AFL, or the NRL (which is the most popular Football code in half the population) or maybe even Rugby Union or Soccer. The NRL and AFL are fairly close in TV viewer figures, with the NRL slightly ahead in total figures for 2010. I am not sure whether this is paid propaganda or simply totally misguided but it certainly whilst optimistic it is not rally very factual.