How Will the NBA’s China Controversy Affect the NFL’s Expansion Plan?

Roger Goodell called China "a priority market" for his league earlier this year

Will NBA’s China Controversy Affect the NFL’s Expansion Plan?
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty)
By Evan Bleier / October 10, 2019 1:49 pm

Speaking before last season’s Super Bowl, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell called China “a priority market” for his league.

“We believe that our game has a great deal of potential to expand to grow and bring new fans into our game,” he said. “We have had double-digit growth this past year in China in our fan base and people engaging with our game. So we are excited by it.”

It’s fair to wonder if that excitement has somewhat waned in the wake of what has happened with the NBA in China thanks to the fallout from a single tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

The NFL already has some business interests in China, distributes content there and has yet-to-be-formalized plans to stage a game on Chinese soil, but it does not rely on China for a significant amount of revenue. The league may be wise to keep it that way, given that early reports on the NBA’s controversy suggest a loss of Chinese revenue could eventually affect their salary cap.

“From a business standpoint, it’s far better to have never exploited a market than to be there and lose it,” ProFootballTalk points out. “As money flows from that new market, budgets, expectations, and high-level executive incomes adjust accordingly. When that market goes away, as it may for the NBA, that’s a major problem.”

That being said, the NFL has 1.4 billion reasons to consider expanding its presence in China, regardless of what it might end up costing the league down the line.

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