Hey, China: Are you ready for some American football?
The China American Football League plans to begin in the world's most populous country in 2015. The announcement Thursday comes less than a year after Marty Judge, co-owner of the Arena Football League's Philadelphia Soul, sponsored the first American football game in China.
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The indoor league is expected to start with six to eight teams. The franchises will be in major Chinese cities and feature American and Chinese players.
Judge said they'll follow Arena league rules and have 20-man rosters that will include 12 Chinese players. Many AFL players, coaches and referees are expected to participate in the CAFL, which will start in the fall after the AFL season ends. Judge already set up coach/referee camps at six sports universities around China in 2013.
"They really don't have contact sports there," said Judge, who replaced rocker Jon Bon Jovi as the Soul's owner. "The Chinese government loved the idea, appreciate the work we've put it in and that's why it got approval."
Former Super Bowl-winning coach Dick Vermeil and former Pro Bowl quarterback Ron Jaworski partnered with Judge to help make it happen. Jaworski traveled with Judge to China and gained approval from the Chinese government to introduce competitive football to about 1.4 billion people.
"This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring our great sport to China, and to do it with the cooperation of the Chinese government," said Jaworski, an ESPN analyst who helped the Philadelphia Eagles win the NFC championship in 1980. "I strongly believe American football will meet the insatiable sports demand from the Chinese growing consumer base, especially among the younger people."
CAFL franchise owners will invest $10 million to start. Judge is still working on a television deal in China to broadcast the game and owners will receive a portion of licensing rights.
"It is possible that someday the CAFL could be bigger in China than the NFL is here," said Judge, who envisions a 30-team league throughout China and eventually through Asia and Australia.
"With the backing of the Chinese government, the sky is the limit for how we can grow American football in the vast, untapped Chinese marketplace," he said.