(NewsNation Now) — The NFL announced Wednesday that 18 teams have been awarded marketing rights across eight different countries, including China, in an effort to draw NFL fans worldwide.
But the move is raising questions from some amid strained U.S.-China relations.
The initiative, known as the International Home Marketing Areas program, grants clubs access to international territories for marketing, fan engagement and commercialization, according to a news release from the NFL.
The goal is to build the league’s global identity and inspire NFL fandom the world over.
But the announcement brought immediate scrutiny when its map outlining the international team partnerships included Democratic Taiwan as part of China.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) took to Twitter Wednesday afternoon to criticize the NFL’s map.
“The NFL, which is chasing dollars from the Chinese Communist Party, shows Taiwan as part of China. Disgraceful cowardice,” Cruz wrote.
The NFL’s campaign allows the L.A. Rams to market its team and grow its fan base not only in China, but also in Australia and Mexico.
On the heels of the NFL push, however, President’s Joe Biden’s administration announced new sanctions against China over human rights abuses. The U.S. also has announced a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming winter Olympics in Beijing for the same reason.
Earlier this month, the Women’s Tennis Association announced its own boycott of events in China over concerns for the safety of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai.
Shuai is a Grand Slam doubles champion who accused China’s former vice premier of sexual assault. Shortly after the accusation, Shuai disappeared from public life and concerns began to swirl about her safety. She reappeared after three weeks, and no explanation was offered for her absence.
The NBA’s Enes Kanter Freedom has been a vocal critic of China, calling the Olympic boycott “good but not good enough.”
China observers agree, with the conservative Heritage Foundation warning the Biden administration to do more.
“Five to 10 years from now, we will see a China whose military strategy is being fulfilled by a military that has modernized according to long laid out plans,” Heritage Foundation research fellow Dean Cheng said.
The following countries and teams were assigned to each other for a five-year term, beginning Jan. 1:
- Australia: Los Angeles Rams
- Brazil: Miami Dolphins
- Canada: Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks
- China: Los Angeles Rams
- Germany: Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Mexico: Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs, Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers
- Spain: Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins
- United Kingdom: Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers
Marketing strategies will include in-person and digital marketing, corporate sponsorship sales, fan events, youth football activities, merchandise sales and co-marketing relationships with others sports and entertainment bodies, according to the release.
“NFL fandom begins with our clubs,” NFL executive vice president, chief strategy and growth officer Christopher Halpin said. “This important initiative enables NFL teams to develop meaningful, direct relationships with NFL fans abroad, driving fan growth and avidity globally. We were very pleased with the number, creativity and level of commitment of club proposals across the board in this initial application period and look forward to teams launching their efforts early next year.”
All 32 teams within the NFL will play at least one international game in the next eight seasons, according to the release.
Teams also may submit future proposals to the league’s international committee for review annually each spring.
“Much of our league success is rooted in the strong connection that our individual teams have built with their fans, and this initiative creates many more avenues for engaging and energizing our international fanbase,” said Joel Glazer, owner and co-chairman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NFL International Committee Chairman.
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