SHANGHAI, China – China tuned in to an American tradition Monday, with millions turning from morning routines to catch a glimpse of the NFL's Super Bowl (search) while it was still happening — and listen to play-by-play in Chinese for the first time ever.
The game was broadcast with a one-hour tape delay on state-run Central Television's cable sports channel, CCTV-5. The estimated audience: 300 million people.
"It's not just the sport. It's all about American culture," said Michael Lu, a buying manager for a sportswear company watching the game at Champions sports bar.
But the game's timing, beginning at 7 a.m. local time Monday, precluded most members of the working population from actually sitting down to watch the New England Patriots (search) beat the Carolina Panthers (search) 32-29.
"If it were on a Sunday, I'd like to watch it. It's fun seeing those guys banging into each other," said Wei Jun, who was on his way to work early and drove his fist into his palm to illustrate. "But like most people, I've got to earn a living."
Sunday's game was broadcast to a potential audience estimated by the league at 1 billion in 229 countries and territories, including China. It was carried in 21 languages, including Arabic, Icelandic, Russian, Serbian and Thai.
For the first time, a crew from China (search) was among the 14 television and radio stations from 10 countries broadcasting the game on site from Houston. The China crew included Philadelphia Eagles tight end Chad Lewis (search), who served as a Mormon missionary to Taiwan 10 years ago and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese.
The Super Bowl has been broadcast annually for years in many regions of China, but never with just a one-hour tape delay.
While many Chinese stay up into the wee hours to catch World Cup soccer, or tune in from the office to catch other key international games, few seemed to be going out of their way Monday to catch the Super Bowl.
"The Super Bowl? It's no fun at all. Not interesting, because it's all about physical strength, and the coaches are always calling for time-outs," said Wang Qin, a sports fan working at a local securities company.
Though Chinese able to stay home on Monday morning may have tuned in to CCTV, many fans preferred to get their Super Bowl fix amid fellow enthusiasts at places like Champions, which was packed with Americans and Chinese watching over breakfast.
China's own focus on promoting mass spectator sports dovetails with the international ambitions of American sports organizers in reaching the world's biggest potential market.
Major league baseball recently announced it was teaming up with its fledgling counterpart, the China Baseball Association, to promote baseball in the country ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Basketball is already a big hit here, partially thanks to the popularity of NBA Action, which has aired for years. The high profile of local favorite Yao Ming, center for the Houston Rockets, has helped immensely, and a Chinese-language NBA Web site is gaining in popularity.
The National Football League makes a concerted international marketing effort, and the "American Bowl" played every season in Japan and NFL Europe has exposed the game to thousands on the continent.