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What are the Chances Tom Brady Takes the NFL to China?

Alex Kilpatrick

by Alex Kilpatrick in NFL Football

Updated Jan 17, 2018 · 9:39 AM PST

Tom Brady at Patriots training camp
Photo: md.faisalzaman [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0]

Ugg’s promotional representative Tom Brady is currently travelling in China, where he spent the day completing passes on the Great Wall, promoting Under Armour, and (to much acclaim) announcing that it is his dream to play an NFL game with the Patriots in China.

It’s an interesting idea, though not entirely groundbreaking. The NFL plays three regular-season games in London, and the Golden State Warriors have already agreed to play preseason games in China this year. China is a huge market for American sports, some of which are maxing out their domestic audience and looking for new fans abroad.

So Brady’s announcement isn’t coming out of nowhere. His trip to China was part of a promotional tour for his own brand and Under Armour, both of which are closely tied, obviously, to professional football. The NFL has been eyeing a game in China for a long, long time. The wheels are already in motion, in all likelihood, and Brady’s announcement is the first step in a broad marketing campaign. It’s unlikely that a star as big or as well-managed as Brady would make such an announcement as a matter of whimsy.

That’s not to downplay the challenges associated with getting two NFL teams to play a competitive game against each other in China. Beijing is 12 hours ahead of Foxborough, so it will probably take a full week to recover from jet lag, not to mention a 14-hour flight each way. At the very least, it would have to be followed by a bye-week, just like the London games. To be completely fair, the league might have to give the teams bye-weeks on either end, which obviously wouldn’t fit into the current 17-week schedule. Creating a scheme that doesn’t advantage or disadvantage the teams involved is going to be a real challenge for the NFL.

As an illustration of these challenges: there was one NFL regular-season game scheduled (tentatively) for China in 2018 between the west coast-based Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers. The game was cancelled, and the NFL VP in charge of international development pointed to competitive scheduling issues, the difficulty of selling out a stadium in a country with one NFL fan per 20 square kilometres, and how to make a game simultaneously watchable 15 time zones apart. A lot of these issues go away by switching to a preseason game, but that would generate a lot less interest and still be very difficult to orchestrate.

Lastly, and I always hate to be this guy, but Tom Brady will be 40 years old at the start of this season. We don’t have a lot to compare him to, other than Mark Brunell, Peyton Manning, and Warren Moon, but suffice it to say that older quarterbacks seem to be fine until, one day, they’re really not. On Monday, you’re on top of the world; by Tuesday, Brock Osweiler is looking really good as your backup.

Hopefully Brady’s career can last until the NFL can make his dreams come true, but don’t count on Bill Belichick’s sentimentality keeping him on the roster.


Birdsnest Stadium in Beijing
Photo: Peter23 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0]

NFL plays a game (regular-season or preseason) in China in 2018: 3/2

New England Patriots play a game in China in 2018: 4/1

Tom Brady starts an NFL game in China at any point: 5/1

Tom Brady completes a regular-season touchdown pass to Julian Edelman on Chinese soil: 15/1

Beijing becomes a part of Massachusetts when the above happens: 499/1

The Patriots play in China, but only after Bill Belichick trades Tom Brady to the Jets for Christian Hackenberg and two third-rounders: 999/1

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