The National Football League and China’s Tencent Holdings have entered a three-year pact to make Tencent Sports the exclusive digital streaming media partner of the NFL in the Middle Kingdom. The deal gives the Chinese giant rights to air pre- and regular-season games as well the playoffs, the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl from this year through the 2019 season.
While basketball and soccer are high-profile sports in China, American football has traditionally found less traction. However, NFL China Managing Director Richard Young says the sport’s popularity is “soaring.” Live-streaming NFL viewership reportedly grew 17% in 2016 with VOD up 52%, under contracts with previous partners. The February 2017 Super Bowl scored 7.5M live-stream viewers who watched the New England Patriots dramatically defeat the Atlanta Falcons. Pats’ star quarterback, Tom Brady, visited China on a highly-publicized promotional tour in June.
Financials on the Tencent deal, which covers live and on-demand viewing, were not disclosed. Along with the playoffs and the Bowls, it includes select pre-season games; all Thursday Night Football, Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football matches; and select Sunday afternoon games.
It also features expanded footage and programming rights like the NFL Draft, NFL Combine and NFL Game Day, as well as NFL Hard Knocks and A Football Life.
The pact gives the NFL massive potential reach. More than two-thirds of Chinese people use Tencent’s messaging apps WeChat and QQ, Bloomberg reported in June. Collectively, Chinese users spend 1.7B hours a day on the company’s apps. Live NFL games and content will be available via QQ and WeChat, and Tencent’s NFL sections on both mobile and desktop terminals including Tencent Sports, QQ.com, Tencent Video, Kuai Bao, Penguin Live, Tencent Sports app, Tencent Video app and Tencent News app.
“We are very excited about the NFL’s future in China and proud of our partnership with Tencent,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “We are confident that this agreement will provide our growing number of Chinese fans with a better viewing experience and more opportunities for engagement with the NFL than ever before.”
Tencent VP Caitlyn Chen believes the deal will “help NFL expand its audience profile and elevate the popularity of American football in China.”