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China football league thrilled with debut

By William Hennelly in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2016-11-11 12:34

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.



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