Following in the footsteps of the National Basketball Association and companies like Walt Disney, the National Football League is launching a new foreign language version of its Internet site. The site will be translated to Mandarin Chinese in hopes to expand the NFL's audience in Asia.
As the Internet has grown, so has its use overseas. International users who can read English have been visiting the bigger American web sites for news, entertainment, and games. A web site like Washington Post.com lists 1.5 million of its 8.5 million monthly visitors coming from overseas.
Foreign markets with great financial potential like China have led to some American organizations creating foreign language versions of their web sites. The NFL.com is taking its shot by launching a version of its web site in Mandarin Chinese.
The NFL estimates that nearly 25 percent of its Internet visitors come from outside the United States. In November, 10 percent of NFL.com's 13 million visitors were from overseas.
The new web site will include all of the flare of NFL.com with text translated to Mandarin Chinese. The site will also feature commentary from Philadelphia Eagles Tight End Chad Lewis. When Lewis was 19-years-old he spent two years in Taiwan on a missionary stint. As a result of his time there, Lewis speaks Mandarin Chinese. He feels that the people of China will take to the web site and is happy to be a part the new project.
"I think it will be a great thing," he said. "I think there will be a lot of interest in the web site. I think there will be a lot of interest in the NFL and there always has been an interest in America and things American. But now that the NFL is going to be introduced, its going to be more familiar with people who don't know very much about football. It's going to be exciting for people over there. It'll be a lot of fun. The more they get to know it and the more they are familiar with it, the more they're going to love it. And I just hope to be a part of that."
In 2002 Chad Lewis went back to Asia with the NFL in an effort to promote the sport. Lewis will also be providing color commentary for the 2004 Super Bowl in Mandarin Chinese. This is just the start as Lewis plays a big role in helping the NFL expose American football to China.
"With NFL Films, I've already filmed five shows in Chinese that have been airing for the last couple of weeks and they are leading up to the Super Bowl," he said. "I think that at the end of February we are going to go with the NFL to China. We'll go to Shanghai and Beijing and introduce the NFL to Mainland China."
Some analysts suggest that an overseas outreach - involving foreign-based advertising sales staff and offices - requires investments with little certainty of profit.
The NFL does not see the new site as a big financial risk. The league is relying on a yet undisclosed Chinese company to produce its site. While another Chinese company, Zou Marketing will be helping the site sell sponsorships.
In addition, China has had rapid Internet growth. According to the China Internet Network Information Center, the nation had 68 million Internet users as of mid-2003, an increase of 15 percent in six months. This growth has helped companies like Motorola, Reebok, and Red Bull to continue their efforts to reach foreign markets.
The lone downfall is that less than 10 percent of China's Internet users have high speed Internet access. The lack of broadband may pose a threat to businesses ventures overseas in selling services and advertising.
The NFL already offers international web sites in Canada, Japan, and Europe. The Europe site details the NFL's six team European League.
The National Basketball Association.com offers nine web sites directed at different overseas markets. NBA.com China and Taiwan are the only two sites produced by portals in those countries. The NBA has not stated if the sites have made a profit yet, but is very pleased with them.
With the help of the Internet, the NFL hopes to introduce a new audience to American football. By providing a user-friendly site that caters to the targeted fan, the NFL is awaiting a wave of interest that may lead to further league ventures overseas.