Chinese retail giant Suning Commerce Group Co Ltd (蘇寧電商集團), set to tie up a deal for Italian soccer club Inter, is already eyeing bigger ambitions: controlling a global sports empire stretching from soccer clubs to online broadcasting.
Suning and Inter are today scheduled to make an announcement in Nanjing, widely expected to confirm that Suning will buy a majority stake in the Italian soccer club.
Amid a wider push by China to increase its standing in the sport, Suning’s deal for the 2010 European champions is likely just the start.
The Chinese electronics retail giant is seeking deals to help create a global sporting “ecosystem,” according to a Suning Sports Group document seen by reporters.
This network would include club ownership, sports media rights, player agencies, training institutions, broadcast platforms, sports-related e-commerce and content production, the document showed.
“Suning Sports Group aims, through strategic expansion and acquisitions, to establish a sporting ecosystem along the whole supply chain,” it said in a roughly 20-page presentation outlining its ambitions for the sports business.
A majority stake in Inter would be a big step toward this. It would be a watershed moment for China’s investment in the game, making Suning the first Chinese business to control a major European soccer power.
Suning would also look to become a leader globally in sports media and online, including “creating high-quality sports content” and “establishing a professional broadcast platform,” the firm said in the presentation.
Suning declined to comment.
Suning, whose annual revenue tops US$20 billion, already has some blocks in place: it owns local club Jiangsu Suning and has splashed millions of US dollars on players such as Brazil’s Alex Teixeira and former Chelsea midfielder Ramires.
It also has ties with Spanish champions Barcelona, England’s Liverpool and a stake in Chinese online content platform PPTV, with sporting content, including the Chinese Super League, as well as Euro 2016 starting later this month.
The drive tallies with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) goals, which include an ambitious plan to create a domestic sports industry worth US$850 billion by 2025. Xi is a keen soccer fan and wants China to one day host, and win, the World Cup.
“Suning is definitely now seen as a bit of a national champion, on par with the likes of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (阿里巴巴) and Dalian Wanda (大連萬達),” said Mark Dreyer, Beijing-based founder of sports information Web site China Sports Insider.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see more investments into the game from Suning in the near future, as it looks to piece together assets in various key areas of the business,” Dreyer added.
Chinese investors already have minority stakes in England’s Manchester City, Spain’s Atletico Madrid and New York City FC, while smaller Spanish club RCD Espanyol and England’s Aston Villa are Chinese-owned.
Inter’s city rivals AC Milan are also in talks to sell a majority stake to a group of Chinese investors.
A report last week said Suning’s deal for Inter was imminent and that the firm was among the front-runners to buy UK-based Stellar Group, one of the world’s leading soccer agencies.
Inter is currently controlled by Indonesian tycoon Erick Thohir, with former owner Massimo Moratti owning just less than 30 percent.
Italian media have reported Suning would buy 70 percent of the club, valuing it at 750 million euros (US$852.5 million).
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