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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Inter Milan set to be bought by Chinese retailer

Italian football club and former European champions just one part of Suning's huge plans for global sports empire.
The Chinese electronics retailer is seeking deals to help to create a global sporting ‘ecosystem’. Bobby Yip / Reuters
The Chinese electronics retailer is seeking deals to help to create a global sporting ‘ecosystem’. Bobby Yip / Reuters

The Chinese retail giant Suning Commerce Group and Inter Milan are due to make an announcement in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing imminently that is widely expected to confirm that Suning will buy a majority stake in the Italian football club.

Suning is already eyeing bigger ambitions: controlling a global sports empire stretching from football clubs to online broadcasting.

Amid a wider push by China to increase its standing in the game, Suning’s deal for the 2010 European champions is just the start.

The Chinese electronics retailer is seeking deals to help to create a global sporting “ecosystem”, according to a Suning Sports Group document seen by Reuters.

This network would include club ownership, sports media rights, player agencies, training institutions, broadcast platforms, content production and sports-related e-commerce, the document shows.

“Suning Sports aims, through strategic expansion and acquisitions, to establish a sporting ecosystem along the whole supply chain,” it said in a 20-page presentation outlining its ambitions for the sports business.

A majority stake in Inter Milan would be a big step towards this. It would be a watershed moment for China’s investment in the game, making Suning the first mainland Chinese business to control a major European football power.

Suning will also look to become a leader globally in sports media and online, including “creating high-quality sports content” and “establishing a professional broadcast platform”, it said in the presentation.

Suning declined to comment.

The company, which has annual revenues topping US$20 billion, already has some blocks in place: it owns the local club Jiangsu Suning and has splashed millions of dollars on players such as Brazil’s Alex Teixeira and the former Chelsea midfielder Ramires.

It also has ties with the Spanish champions FC Barcelona, England’s Liverpool FC and a stake in the Chinese online content platform PPTV, with sporting content including the Chinese Super League as well as Euro 2016 starting this month.

The drive tallies with the Chinese president Xi Jinping’s own goals, which includes ambitious plan to create a domestic sports industry worth $850bn by 2025. Mr Xi is a keen football fan and wants China to one day host, and win, the Fifa World Cup.

“Suning is definitely now seen as a bit of a national champion, on par with the likes of Alibaba Group and Dalian Wanda,” said Mark Dreyer, the Beijing-based founder of the sports information website 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.”

Chinese investors already have minority stakes in Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City, Spain’s Atletico Madrid and New York City FC, while the smaller Spanish club Espanyol and England’s Aston Villa are Chinese-owned. Inter’s city rival AC Milan is also in talks to sell a majority stake to a group of Chinese investors.

Suning is also among the front-runners to buy the UK-based Stellar Group, one of the world’s leading football agencies.

Inter is currently controlled by the Indonesian tycoon Erick Thohir with the former owner Massimo Moratti owning just under 30 per cent. Italian media have reported Suning will buy 70 per cent of the club, valuing it at €750m (Dh3.13bn)

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