The NFL is negotiating with the Chinese government to play exhibition games in Shanghai in 2005 and Beijing in 2007.
The NFL wants to promote the league to China’s 1.3 billion people, who are a huge potential market for league telecasts and products such as uniform jerseys and hats.
The Chinese government has told the NFL that exhibition games are a good way to promote tourism leading up to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, league officials said.
“We would bring American television before the start of the Olympic games,” said Doug Quinn, vice president of NFL International. “It would be a way for them to say, ‘Hello everyone, we’re open and ready for business.’ ”
Quinn said there was no timetable for reaching an agreement. Chinese Ambassador Yang Jiechi, who has spoken with NFL officials about the games, declined to be interviewed.
This isn’t the first time the NFL has linked exhibition games with Olympic cities.
A year after the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, the NFL held a preseason “American Bowl” game in the city. San Francisco beat Pittsburgh, 21-14, in front of 45,300.
The league played in Barcelona again the next July, with Oakland defeating Denver, 25-22, in front of 37,406.
A year before the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, the Australian city played host to a game between the Broncos and San Diego Chargers. The game, won by Denver, 20-17, drew a crowd of 73,811.
NFL spokesman Pete Abitante said the NFL currently has no plans to play in Athens, where the 2004 Summer Olympics will be held.
Quinn said NFL officials have already visited stadiums and hotels in China to prepare for possible exhibition games.
When Quinn stayed at Hyatt Corp.'s Grand Hyatt in Beijing earlier this month, he watched a taped broadcast of an NFL game between Oakland and the New York Jets on ESPN Star.
“China is more advanced than some people might think,” Quinn said. “For us though, the most important thing is getting all the paperwork and approvals locked down with the government.”