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NFL cancels China plans

Preseason game called off; more NFL news, notes

Posted: Sunday April 1, 2007 7:05PM; Updated: Monday April 2, 2007 5:52PM
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Beijing's Olympic Stadium, also knowns as the Bird's Nest, will likely house China's first NFL exhibition game in the summer of 2009.
Beijing's Olympic Stadium, also knowns as the Bird's Nest, will likely house China's first NFL exhibition game in the summer of 2009.
Sixten Johansson/Lehtikuva/WireImage.com
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Editor's Note: The NFL officially announced the cancellation of its preseason game in China on Monday.

The National Football League, which last summer trumpeted so proudly its entry into China with a planned preseason game between Seattle and New England that would take place in August, will announce early this week the game is canceled.

And the league won't take just a one-year hiatus from the Asian experiment, according to those with knowledge of plans for the game the NFL was calling the China Bowl. Because the Summer Olympics are set for Beijing in 2008, the league will skip 2008 and look to put a game in Olympic Stadium, now under construction, in the summer of 2009. The Pats and Seahawks were to have played Aug. 9 in the well-worn Workers Stadium in Beijing, built in 1959 and renovated three years ago.

The reason for putting off the China Bowl, according to those familiar with the league's thinking, is twofold. The NFL is devoting tremendous manpower to the first regular-season game ever played outside North America -- Miami and the New York Giants will play Oct. 28 in London -- and the league doesn't want to risk cutting corners on either of the massive projects in order to stage both games 11 weeks apart. And though the Chinese would have put on a fine show this summer, doing it with more preparation time two years later -- particularly in a stadium that critics are already saying will be the finest outdoor sports venue in the world -- fits more into the NFL's vision of what its China debut should be.

League spokesman Greg Aiello, reached Sunday afternoon, declined comment. Spokesmen for both teams also declined comment. But an announcement could be made as early as Monday detailing the two-year postponement of the game.

The NFL rarely is caught with its pants down on a major story like this one. But why they had to pull the plug on the China game is easy to explain. The league announced the China Bowl last August, and it was expected that this would be the only international game of 2007. It took many at 280 Park Avenue by surprise in October, when owners voted to play an overseas regular-season game as early as 2007. And then again in February, when the league announced the regular-season game between the Giants and Dolphins in the new Wembley Stadium next October. And it soon became apparent, particularly with the England game being a regular-season one, that it would be impossible for each game to be the standard NFL production. Which is to say, big and brassy. "And there's no way the league would have gone to China for the first time unless they felt everything would be perfect about it,'' said one league insider.

The China Bowl was going to be a big event, not only in the country of 1.3 billion but in America as well. NBC planned to televise the game live at 8:30 a.m., using the Today Show as a lead-in. But NBC is probably not disappointed that the game will be called off, because the costs for staging such a game would likely far outweigh the return in ratings and ad revenue for a midweek morning preseason game, particularly one in which the starters would play such a small role. Preseason games in prime time get lousy ratings, so playing one when the country's at work would probably get microscopic ones.

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