November 11, 2013, 1:20 PM

NFL China opens an online store to cater to its 3 million Chinese fans

The top U.S. sports league aims to be among China’s top five sport leagues.

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The National Football League, which has been working to introduce American football to Chinese sports fans in recent years, has opened a web store in China where consumers can buy items such as a Green Bay Packers jersey or a Wilson-brand football.

“We have received many phone calls from fans asking where they can buy authentic NFL products.” Richard Young, managing director of NFL China, says. “It was the right time to sell our products to Chinese consumers. “

Like many other foreign brands entering China, NFL China has begun selling online not on its own e-commerce site but on China’s popular online marketplace Tmall.  Export Now, a U.S. company that helps Western brands sell online in China, is managing the store for NFL China and handling marketing and fulfillment.

One of the big differences between e-commerce in China and the United States is that Chinese consumers most often start an online shopping trip on a big web marketplace, such as Tmall for apparel, or JD.com for electronics, rather than going to a brand’s sites or a search engine. In fact, only five of the top 10 online women apparel brands in China sell through their own sites, with the rest relying on stores on major marketplaces, according to Chinese market research firm Super Data.

The NFL has been selling online in the U.S. since 1999. Its e-commerce site, NFLShop.com, generated $165 million in web sales in 2012 and is No. 137 in the Internet Retailer 2013 Top 500.

NFL China’s focus is on educating Chinese people about American football, a daunting task in a country where soccer and basketball are the most popular sports.

Since opening an office in China six years ago, the NFL has tried to attract fans by organizing more than 30 events each year featuring NFL players, and sponsoring a college league made up of 32 Chinese universities.

The NFL also provides free video signals to 21 Chinese TV and online platforms so they can air NFL games. It says 17.7 million Chinese consumers watched this year’s Super Bowl game. The NFL has also attracted 260,000 followers on Chinese social networks, a 68% increase from a year ago, the league says. In the past six years, NFL China has built a fan base of approximately 3 million, according to CSM, a Chinese research firm.

But it’s got a long way to go to match the success of the National Basketball Association. In that last three NBA seasons, the NBA has recorded 16 billion page views and 9 billion video views on NBA.com/China.  In 2012, page views increased by more than 40% and video views jumped nearly 180%. NBA China opened its official store on Tmall.com in October 2012, selling more than 300 items. The store’s most popular product, a silicon bracelet, shipped more than 200 units in the past 30 days.

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