Australian rules football club Port Adelaide will play in Shanghai in May 2017 against the Gold Coast Suns – becoming the first foreign professional sport in the world to host a regular season match in China.
Announced today by the Australian Football League (AFL), the May 14 match at Jiangwan Stadium follows three years of work in China by the South Australian club. This has included attracting Chinese business investment and broadcasting weekly documentaries to promote the sport on national television in China.
AFL Chief Executive Officer Gillon McLachlan, who made the announcement alongside Port Adelaide President David Koch at The Chinese Museum in Melbourne, said the AFL was proud to be taking Australia’s Indigenous game to one of the world’s greatest and most exciting cities.“We are proud that Australian Football will play a bigger role in deepening the historic connections between Australia and The People’s Republic of China,” McLachlan said.“Our game exists in a global sporting market place, and this event is part of our broader strategy to reach into new markets, both inside Australia, and across our region.”
Port Adelaide Power’s push into China began in 2013 with an agreement with Southern China Australian Football League club Hong Kong, which led to the Power’s support of the Chinese National team at the International Cup in Melbourne in 2014.
Port Adelaide China and Government Relations General Manager Andrew Hunter joined the club in March 2015 and began shifting the club’s Asian focus from Hong Kong to Mainland China.
In April this year the club signed a multi-million dollar, three-year sponsorship deal with Chinese property developer Shanghai Cred.
As a result of the partnership, Port Adelaide Power will hold annual training camps in Shanghai, continue to sponsor the South China AFL, Guandong AFL, Team China and host business events in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.
It also struck a deal to produce a weekly AFL documentary and broadcast AFL games on China Central Television.
With the help of Adelaide-based production company 57 Films, the club has so far produced about 20 episodes of its “AFL Show” since April, which usually airs about 9.30pm on Saturday nights across China on sports channel CCTV5.
The 30-minute program follows the fortunes of Team China’s AFL captain Chen Shaoliang, who was brought to Adelaide at the start of the year to train with the Power. The programs also feature international student from Shandong Li Jinsong who is employed by Port Adelaide to commentate games in Mandarin.
Two Port Adelaide home matches were also shown on CCTV in April, with the second match viewed by 3.8 million people in China to become the most watched minor round match in the history of the sport.
The rising popularity of the sport in China then led to games being shown on CCTV every week until the season ended in early October.
“That was an extraordinary outcome,” Hunter said.
“Each week there’s two hits of AFL on CCTV5 and we’re seeing a consistency in the television audience, which suggests there is a level of interest in the game.”
“We’ve achieved a commercial outcome a lot of people thought wasn’t possible.
“Now we see a real possibility having broken through to keep broadening our contacts there to keep being involved in conversations that are commercially interesting.”
Australian rules football, also known as AFL, is a fast, tough, skilful 18-a-side game played on a large oval about twice the size of a soccer pitch.
“It’s an exciting sport and I think we need to demystify it. The athletes are extraordinarily strong, they’ve got a level of endurance, it’s a dynamic sport and it moves fast,” Hunter said.
“Tactically now it’s not too dissimilar to soccer in the ways the players move and space creation.”
Hunter said the sponsorship deal with Shanghai Cred had been critical to the success of securing a match in China.
He said the match would also be an opportunity to showcase Australian culture, businesses and products.
“We think that football provides a great window into Australian culture but it’s not the only one.
“So if we can bring with us those businesses who are interested in showcasing premium Australian food and wine, iconic Australian tourism and education experiences then I think we are looking at a platform of cultural diplomacy that’s going to be really significant.”
Back home in South Australia, Port Adelaide is also working hard to connect with the Chinese community by targeting the more than 12,000 Chinese students who come to the state capital Adelaide to study each year.
With the help of Li Jinsong and Chen Shaoliang, the club has a program of activities for Chinese students, which includes hosting 50 of them at each home match where they are given an explanation of the game and participate in a march to the ground from the commercial centre of Adelaide.
The club has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Australia China Youth Association in a bid to reach students in other states.
“When they start wearing the scarf they feel part of something bigger, which is really important. Becoming members of the club shows there’s that level of engagement and being able to maintain that level of engagement after the students go back to China is really important,” Hunter said.
“These students are seeing Port Adelaide as being China’s team and their team. More and more they’re coming to us so we need to make sure we continue to engage them so they continue to feel that way.”
Li Jinsong moved to Adelaide from Jinan to study at the University of South Australia in 2012. He won a competition to commentate Port Adelaide matches in Mandarin and is now a full-time employee of the club.
He has fallen in love with the game and said there was a great opportunity for Port Adelaide to grow the sport in China, particularly through the students who had come to South Australia to study.
“They’re young and they love exciting new things so they are one of the target groups,” he said.
“The feedback’s been really good. I think it’s literally the biggest game in the world – it’s the biggest field with the most players on it. Besides the body contact it uses a lot of skill and I think that’s what the Chinese people like.
“It’s a really good game, it’s exciting and fast paced.”Jump to next article