1st Arena Football game a huge hit in China
The show is over, but the thrill lives on.
China's first Arena Football League game, an All-Star exhibition between the two best AFL teams, the Arizona Rattlers and the Philadelphia Soul, attracted a crowd of more than 8,000 spectators at the Beijing Capital Gymnasium on Nov 11.
"It was beyond our expectations," said Wu Hua, president of Ganlan Media International (Beijing) Co Ltd, one of the organizers.
He said his Chinese colleagues and US counterparts never expected such a big crowd.
"We thought maybe 3,000 to 4,000 would come, but definitely not such a big number," said Wu. "And from the crowd's reaction, we saw that lots of Chinese knew something about the AFL and there was also interaction between the players and the audience."
In fact, one spectator ran onto the pitch, grabbed the ball and started to run, but was taken down by security personnel.
The players, 70 percent of whom were first-timers to China, were not only surprised by the Chinese reaction to the American game, but also tasted some local culture as well. They visited the Great Wall and the Forbidden City and were full of admiration for Chinese culture.
"It has gone beyond merely a sporting event, it was a cultural communication between China and the US," said Deng Shaohui, vice-president of the Beijing People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, the other organizer of the exhibition. "To be true, we never expected an AFL match could have sparked such a strong response."
Wu said Columbia Broadcasting System will show the game on Dec 7 and that the organizers were overwhelmed by the aftershock of the exhibition.
"I guess it is also because of the qualities we displayed throughout the preparations and during the exhibition," Wu said. "Although the judges and related technical officials were all from the US, the facilities for the game were all made in China. Players and officials showed their surprise at the high quality of the facilities as China had never held an AFL game before."
David Cutaia, the chief referee of the match, said the venue was comparable to the top three AFL sites in the US.
Some players also expressed their willingness to come and play if China developed a professional league.
That could be Wu's next big project.
Galan Media has helped to establish Arena Football teams in six sports universities: Beijing Sports University, Tianjin University of Sport, Hebei Institute of Physical Education, Wuhan Institute of Physical Education, Shandong Sport University and Xi'an Physical Education University.
"We launched professional training in May and started to cultivate China's first-ever Arena Football coaches and referees through clinics by trainers from the US in the six universities," Wu said.
"Some AFL trainers will come to China in January again to train our players," he said while also claiming an invitational tournament between the six colleges would be held next May or June.
Wu said he plans to establish Arena Football clubs in several cities by the end of the year. He believes the game is more eye-catching due to its compact field, fast transition and high scoring.
He said the clubs would comprise Chinese and overseas players.
China has already started NFL-style clubs in places like Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing but has no clubs representing the indoor sport.
"Some clubs have already told me they are interested in joining if I set up a league of Arena Football," Wu said.
"So the pieces are there, we just need to put them together," he said.