Hsiao ’05 Helps To Put NFL on the Map in China

Super Bowl Sunday coincides with the celebration of a new year in China — the year of the horse. A good sign, perhaps, for the Denver Broncos? The story line may not seem particularly interesting to American fans, but it could be a draw for the viewers that Stephanie Hsiao ’05 cares most about.

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San Francisco 49ers great Joe Montana plays catch with a Chinese student while visiting the Great Wall of China in November 2013. (Photo: © Stephen Shaver/ZUMA Wire/ZUMAPRESS.com)

Hsiao works in Shanghai for NFL China and has spent the last five years marketing America’s most popular sport to the world’s most populous nation. She returned to New Jersey this week as a liaison for Chinese broadcasters and journalists covering the Super Bowl.

Football viewership has seen steady growth in China, both on television and online, Hsiao told PAW, and the game is beginning to find its niche as a participation sport. The NFL sponsors a 36-team intercollegiate flag football league, and a handful of youth and adult teams have sprung up in major cities.

Visits from NFL stars and cheerleading squads have helped to spark interest. (Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana was the latest to tour the country.) Chinese fans often are drawn to the NFL because it’s different from other sports, Hsiao said, but new fans need to learn basics that even casual fans in the United States would take for granted. “You might not be able to explain what a 4-3 defense is, but [in the U.S.] everybody knows what a quarterback is and what a quarterback does,” she said.

Hsiao majored in East Asian studies at Princeton, and the language skills she learned as an undergraduate played a significant role in her career path. Her senior thesis — on sport culture in China — and her experiences as an All-Ivy swimmer also shaped her choice to pursue sports marketing abroad. She worked for Speedo and the sports agency Octagon before joining the NFL.

Olympic sports still dominate the athletics landscape in China, Hsiao said. But on Monday morning, at a handful of sites, NFL fans will gather for Super Bowl breakfasts (the game begins at 7:30 a.m., Beijing time) and join the more than 100 million people who watch the biggest event in American sports.

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