Peyton Manning's Looking for the Yao Ming of Football in China

  • Former quarterback says ‘no-brainer’ for NFL to play in China
  • Yao Ming-type player for NFL would spur interest, Manning says

Promoting the NFL in China

Retired from American football after leading the Denver Broncos to win the Super Bowl, quarterback Peyton Manning has set his sights on a new frontier: bringing the National Football League to China.

The NFL has already arranged games in Europe and Japan and it’s only a matter of time before it hosts one in the world’s most populous country, Manning said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Beijing, where he’s on a promotional tour that also took him to Shanghai. The Los Angeles Rams could be one of the first teams to play in the Chinese mainland, as early as 2018, ESPN reported in March, citing a team source.

“I think it is just a no-brainer,” he said. “The fact that Beijing has hosted the Olympics. It’s a great place to host a major sporting event.”

China has become a major destination for global sports franchises, thanks to an economy that is still growing faster than 6 percent and a push by the government to make domestic consumption a bigger part of growth. Soccer is the most popular sport in the mainland and will likely continue to be so as President Xi Jinping encourages investment in the sport. The National Basketball Association has seen a boom in the past decade, fueled by China-born athletes such as Yao Ming, the former player for the Houston Rockets whose star power helped popularize the sport on the mainland.

The NFL could also build brand awareness with the start of a professional American-style football league in October that’s modeled after the Arena Football League. The indoor league will have six teams in major Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai, the official Xinhua News Agency reported last month.

While American football hasn’t drawn the same level of interest in China as the NBA has, that could change as the nation produces its first home-grown star, Manning said.

“Who knows? Maybe a player does come out of China like a Yao Ming -- that would be the best way to create more interest,” he said. “It only just takes one.”

— With assistance by Tom Mackenzie, and Allen Wan

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