American football is probably the furthest point from Chinese culture and the most dear to U.S. civilization. The game of the large and brawny doesn’t quite match a generally more bookish and smaller-built crowd. This year, the Lunar New Year celebration coincides with the Super Bowl, bringing out all the hidden NFL fans in Asia.
The Chinese website Sina reports that over the last five years, an average of more than 12 million in China watch every Super Bowl. For the upcoming game, 10 regional television stations will offer a live broadcast, and Beijing and Shanghai will host viewing parties, the article says. The writer happily points out that this year NFL fans won’t need to take a day off to watch the game, which airs Monday morning Beijing time, the first day of the Chinese New Year. These facts are incredible news to someone who has never met a Chinese football fan, especially on the mainland. Obviously, I’ve been missing out.
In the West, the National Football League has expanded its reach to London where the logo flapped across a tourist thoroughfare in October for the third annual ‘NFL on Regent Street.’ The red, white and blue colors made me momentarily homesick for the States, perhaps illustrating how the NFL now appears more of an American symbol than baseball. As football spreads globally, it hasn’t claimed to be the (American dominated) ‘World’ Series.
The Super Bowl was foreign to me in my Asian American experience. I knew the event was a major draw for advertising dollars – whose campaigns I studied in class – and the scene of a ‘wardrobe malfunction.’ From that limited knowledge there seemed little wholesome about the whole ritual involving wider and wider flatscreen TVs and calorie-rich snacks.
On the other hand, I generally don’t celebrate Chinese New Year unless my family makes plans. Christmas and Thanksgiving are bigger holidays for me. But as I read the childhood memories of Chinese in their 20s and 30s, I realize the holiday for them offers the same nostalgia as Christmases past do for me. The big family gatherings on the eve of Chinese New Year (Feb 7, 2016) is the highlight for those young professionals. This year, there’s even more reason to come together – across cultures.
The one intriguing and heartwarming element is how the Sunday evening game draws strangers together for a moment, seemingly more than the Olympics, the presidential election, and any regular event outside of national tragedy. The World Cup just doesn’t appear to have a strong enough U.S. presence to make it a matter of national pride.
When the Giants won in 2012 New York was screaming. Roars went off in rapid succession along the dormitory hall as each roomful of viewers cheered the home team, one split second after the other following the TV connection lag. Downstairs, the Trader Joe’s staff were exuberant, people on the streets were running and whooping, and apartment windows opened to the winter night air for their dwellers to let out a shout.
At the time, my friends and I were amused.
A few years later I visited Seattle just weeks before the Seahawks were set to match the Broncos. I fell in love with the city, and couldn’t resist a team name that has a bird of prey in it plus a reference to the ocean. Those are terrible reasons to favor a team, for sure, but isn’t most team spirit like that, down to the Mets? After the Seahawks win, I was excited to see the team leading strongly at halftime the following year as well. Sadly, they made little progress after that and my slight interest in the sport remained just that.
The number of fans in China has grown, however. At the end of 2014, more then 17 million Chinese expressed interest in the NFL and American football, Sina said, citing Nielsen rival CSM Research. Apparently that’s growth of 10 times in the last five years. How much has American interest in China grown in the last 5 years?
On Thanksgiving, football is always playing in the background, and the momentum builds until the mid-winter game. In China, the government-sponsored Spring Festival Gala streams in the background during the Chinese New Year eve meal. This year, Sina suggests Chinese can have an “American Spring Festival Gala.”
‘After you watch the spring festival show, you can watch America’s Super Bowl. On the first day of the Lunar New Year, you can celebrate a different first day of the year of the monkey with the NFL.’
Americans will mostly not be celebrating the Lunar New Year, but there will likely be millions more people overseas watching the Broncos verse the Panthers.