American football is about to swarm China, as fans gear up for the Super Bowl – the sport's ultimate showdown – which this year pits two formidable teams with passionate fans.
Super Bowl XLIX will see the New England Patriots face last year's Super Bowl champions, the Seattle Seahawks. Eager Chinese and expatriate fans will gather early on Feb 2 to witness the moment, considered the biggest sporting event in the US and deemed an unofficial national holiday. The game is watched by millions of Americans and millions more in other countries around the world. China is no exception, as American football has seen an increase in its popularity, according to officials.
This year the clash – branded the "Duel in the Desert" by the National Football League – will take place in Glendale, Arizona. And despite online and television broadcasts of the game, many American football fans prefer to gather in sports bars to enjoy the monumental moment with others.
"No one wants to be watching this, one of the biggest sporting events across the world, alone, sitting on the couch of the living room," said Wang Ailun, a Beijing resident and a Seattle Seahawks fan. "Watching the Super Bowl is more like a test of your NFL loyalty, and gathering together in sports bars with friends is much more fun."
Wang added: "It's more like a festival for the American football fans in China, who are searching for a festive spot to watch the game and have a blast at one of these parties no matter which team you root for."
Attesting to American football's growing popularity around the world, the NFL has opened several international offices. The fifth one was opened in Beijing in 2007.
According to NFL China, Kerry Hotel in Beijing, the Kerry Hotel Pudong in Shanghai, and the Jing An Shangri-La in Shanghai, will host the official NFL Super Bowl parties in China and will hold special events for the live viewing of the Super Bowl at 7:30 a.m., Monday, Feb 2.
Fans will enjoy the complete pageantry of the day, with a live US feed of the game being broadcast on gigantic LED screens in the Kerry Hotels' ballroom and at Calypso restaurant at the Jing An Shangri-La, it said.
The broadcast will include the perennially talked-about halftime show featuring performances by Katy Perry and Lenny Kravitz and the much-anticipated Super Bowl commercials – most of which cost advertisers $4.5 million for a 30-second spot, and are as much of an attraction of their own as the game itself.
In addition to the official NFL Super Bowl parties, many restaurants, pubs and sports bars are also coming up with promotions to attract more American football fans on game day, to cater to the ever-increasing craze over American football in China, no matter if they want to cheer with pals, party, or just chow down food.
Tim's Texas BBQ in Beijing will feature an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet (RMB60) until 9:00 a.m., and all-day 25rmb Bloody Marys and Screwdrivers. Fans are also promised to be on the 50-yard line with HD TV's and surround sound.
For 100 yuan entry fee, Paddy O'Shea's will offer special breakfast and drink with Andy's craft breakfast sausage, scrambled eggs, ham, potatoes, red beans, cheese and French toast.
Home Plate BBQ, an American restaurant that serves authentic Southern American BBQ favorites, will fire up five flat screen TVs and a huge projection screen to show the game so that everyone will have a great view. The entrance fee, around 300 yuan, also covers unlimited buffet and free-flowing drinks, including PBR Tall Boys, Coors Gold, Qingdao, mixed drinks and coffee.
The restaurant also features an NFL-sponsored raffle that will give away one Authentic NFL Game Day Football and one Authentic NFL Game Day Jersey during half time.
Despite China not yet being the market that most sports fans associate with American football, the National Football League, one of America's most lucrative businesses, has been trying to change the perception by taking the game to China, encouraged by the rapid growth of football in the country.
"We are really excited about the rapid growth of the popularity of American football in China," said Richard Young, managing director of NFL China. "Whether it's online, or through a broadcast deal on 19 channels across China, it's clear the NFL is taking the Chinese market seriously."
The Super Bowl party will cap off a banner year for NFL China. The NFL Home Field initiative returned last September across Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou attracting more than 110,000 people over the course of 10 weeks, from September 13 to November 23.
The final University Bowl weekend in Shanghai drew more than 14,000 attendees and featured an appearance by an NFL legend lauded by NFL Films as the "Greatest Football Player ever" – Jerry Rice.