Chinese investors continue to acquire overseas football clubs

Date: 24 May 2016

Chinese investors have continued their buying spree of Europe’s top-division soccer league clubs over the course of the season. In a growing trend, Europe’s five league football teams have all either already been sold or are in the process of being sold to Chinese businesses. 

Reuters reported on 22 May 2016 that four Chinese consortium groups are competing in a bid for one of the world’s most powerful soccer agencies, England’s Stellar Group. 

On 19 May 2016, China’s Recon Group announced its acquisition of Aston Villa, making Chinese businessman Dr. Tony Xia the owner and Chairman of this old-line Premier League club. Another two Italian League clubs popular with Chinese fans, AC Milan and Inter Milan, are in talks with Chinese investors. While China’s Suning Group expressed its interest in strategic cooperation with Inter Milan, AC Milan is already in exclusive negotiations with a Chinese consortium. 

On 18 March 2016, FIFA signed China's Wanda Group as top level sponsor, making Wanda the first Chinese top-tier partner of football’s governing body FIFA. This deal will grant Wanda the rights to all FIFA competitions and corporate activities for the next four World Cups. Wanda’s partnership with FIFA marks yet another milestone in Wanda’s quest to grow into a world renowned sports brand. 

Wanda acquired a 20% stake in the Spanish La Liga football team Atletico Madrid in early 2015. To date 16 out of the total of 20 La Liga football teams have received Chinese funds. Rastar Group is now the biggest shareholder of the Spanish soccer club Espanyol with up to a 56% stake acquired in November 2015, while Lionel Messi, a player for the Spanish soccer club Barcelona, is a brand ambassador of China’s Huawei company. 

The Chinese company CMC purchased a 13% stake in the parent group of Manchester City for $400m in December 2015, the first ever investment in the Premier League by a Chinese firm. Sochaux is the first European soccer club fully controlled by a Chinese investor (Tech Pro Technology Development Limited). The Dutch League football team Den Haag sold 90% of its stakes to Beijing UVS International Sports Development Co., Ltd. in January 2015. 

Desport acquired 100% of Granada CF, a member of La Liga

Last week, Desports Group (Desports), a Chinese firm acquired 100% of Granada CF for €37m; demonstrating Chinese companies’ growing interest in acquiring foreign sports clubs. 

Following the acquisition, La Liga will feature a Chinese “Derby” in its next football season.

Granada CF, together with Udinese Calcio and Waterford United FC, are currently owned by the Pozzo family, which has been wanting to sell Granada CF due to its poor performance in La Liga. The acquisition was facilitated by MBS, an agency headed by Pere Guardiola, who is likely to be the new president of Granada CF.

The current season of La Liga features two Chinese-owned clubs; one being Atletico Madrid which is owned by Wang Jianlin, CEO of Dalian Wanda Group and RCD Espanyol which is owned by Chen Yansheng, chairman of Shenzhen-listed Rastar Group.

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