American sports gaining ground in China market

Marketing experts quoted by Owen Gibson of The Guardian say that United States sports organisations, the National Basketball Association and the Gridiron code's National Football League are making better headway in China than English and European football and warn that in the scramble for short-term revenues European clubs are failing to nurture a real love for the sport.

The NBA, aided by the huge popularity of the Houston Rockets player Yao Ming, is a long way ahead of European football, according to Jim O'Toole, the chief executive of a sports agency, 141, owned by the advertising and marketing giant WPP. "The numbers we see from the latest television deal are phenomenal but to actually transact with those people is a bigger challenge," he says. "How do Chelsea make their brand tangible? They run the risk of confusing lots of hours of television exposure, not always at the right time of day, with genuine affinity."

Rowan Simons, who has worked in the Chinese television industry for more than 20 years and is a consultant to several international sports organisations, says: "The biggest enemy to football is the NBA. It controls everything in basketball - it's one brand, one rights deal, all the teams and all the stars under one body. As a result, basketball is picking up thousands and thousands of kids."

American Football has no history in the country, but the NFL has launched a program to introduce flag football, its equivalent of touch rugby, into schools before bringing over the full game in four or five years' time. "That's where the NBA and the NFL, organisations that have a collective marketing structure and collective ownership of their brand, can take a long-term view of how to crack this huge market. Our football clubs all want to get an edge over the competition," says Simons.

Henry Peirse, the managing director of Global Broadcast Networks, which produces a radio programme based on English football that goes out on China National Radio, says there is a natural cynicism that must be overcome. "There is an inherent distrust of all things football, locally and internationally. That's perhaps why basketball is so popular. "