The NFL has put a lot of money into China, ramping up its efforts for NFL China (its Chinese marketing wing) that have included ad buys on the Beijing and Shanghai subways as well as hip shopping areas in these cities, visits from players (and cheerleaders), and youth flag football leagues. The league had long been planning a preseason game in China that was met with a number of starts and stops and was finally "delayed for 2 years" in 2007. Much of the problem were venue issues as many of China's outdoor venues were being renovated (or built) in preparation for the Olympics. Now, its been suspended indefinitely, much of the blame is on the current economic downturn. The New England Patriots, who were to compete in the game back in 2007, had even opened offices in China and been involved in promoting football (mainly through their cheerleaders, who even attended a July 4th party at Club Mix in Beijing), though their office was recently shut down.
Previous NFL Commish Paul Tagliabue spent a lot of time attempting to expand the NFL overseas and really wanted a game in China, though his successor, Roger Goodell, has gone a long way at reeling in Tagliabue's efforts. After the failure of the Buffalo Bills game in Toronto, was the NFL afraid of a similar failure in China? Perhaps Goodell realized the reality is that no matter what he does, it will be extremely difficult to promote the game in China, and one game isn't going to change that.