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Chinese investors bet on European soccer

Chinese investors are making unprecedented inroads into professional soccer in the UK and elsewhere in Europe.


Chinese brokerage Everbright Securities and Beijing Baofeng Technology, an internet entertainment company, as saying they are behind a deal to buy a 65 percent stake in MP & Silva, a sports media rights firm. The deal values the company at more than $1 billion. A Chinese group has also agreed to buy an initial 70 percent of Italian Serie A club AC Milan from former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, a person familiar with the negotiations told China Daily.


Behind the sudden surge of interest is Xi's determination to create a sports economy worth nearly $850 billion by 2025, according to Simon Chadwick, professor of sports enterprise at Salford University in the UK.


"When you think about it, that's extraordinary. At present, you have a worldwide sports economy worth about $400 billion. Yet one country is looking to double that by 2025 for itself alone," he said.


He has seen a change of emphasis in Chinese investment since the start of this year, from the straightforward acquisition of clubs, or stakes in clubs, to investing in soccer service organizations, such as sports agents and organizing bodies such as FIFA.


A relatively unknown Chinese businessman, Xia Jiantong, paid a reported 70 million pounds for English club Aston Villa, according to the club's website. Villa won only three matches last season and was relegated from the Premier League to the second-tier Championship. The Villa case is significant in that it is the first time a club has been acquired virtually at the same time it has been relegated from the top tier of English soccer, and the first time a Chinese investor has acquired a 100 percent stake in a club.


Meanwhile, the AC Milan deal has a deadline of June 16, and the Chinese group is negotiating a price with Berlusconi's Fininvest Group.


He has owned the club for more than 30 years, but was forced into discussions to sell it by shareholders in Fininvest and family members, according to the Football Italia website. He later said he wanted to sell the club to Chinese investors, because he did not want to put more money into it.


Wang Jianlin's Dalian Wanda paid 45 million euros just over a year ago for a 20 percent stake in Spanish La Liga club Atletico Madrid, and Chinese Media Capital acquired a 13 percent stake in the company that controls English Premier League club Manchester City for 265 million pounds.


According to Manchester City chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak, "Football is the most loved, played and watched sport in the world, and in China the exponential growth pathway for the game is both unique and exciting."


But it is not just about acquiring clubs. This month that four Chinese investor groups, including one led by model carmaker Rastar Group, were competing to buy Stellar Group, one of the world's most powerful soccer agencies. Control of UK-based Stellar would give its owner serious influence in player transfers, according to analysts.


Last year, so-called super agent Jorge Mendes, whose clients include new Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo, said his Gestifute management firm was forming an alliance with Fosun, the Chinese conglomerate part-owned by billionaire Guo Guangchang.


"We believe the Chinese football industry has a bright future," Mendes said.


Jack Ma's Alibaba Group is in talks to become a major sponsor of the FIFA World Cup. Dalian Wanda is already a sponsor. English clubs are also seeking to tap the huge resources in China.


Manchester United has an estimated 100 million-plus fans in the country, with vast marketing opportunities for replica shirt sales and other memorabilia.



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