Chinese retail giant Suning buys Inter Milan for 270 million euros

Company promises to restore storied giant to former glories

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 June, 2016, 3:54pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 June, 2016, 2:51pm

Chinese retail giant Suning confirmed the purchase of storied Italian football club Internazionale on Monday, in the latest – and biggest – move by mainland business into European soccer.

Suning bought a stake of almost 70 per cent in the club, for 270 million euros (HK$2.3 billion), according to reports in China. The Milan club, founded in 1908, is one of the sport’s most famous names.

Zhang Jindong, the company’s chairman, promised to restore the team to the top of European football and said the deal would also boost efforts to make China a global football power while raising the profile of the Suning brand.

“We believe that Inter Milan’s super famous name in the world will definitely help us become a well known brand for China, Europe and other countries in the world,” said Zhang at a press conference in Nanjing.

“It is an important part of Suning’s international development.

“To join hands with Inter is a milestone for Suning and China’s football history.

“Football is growing at an incredible rate in China and the acquisition of Inter is a strategic move.

“Ours is an international business and our brand will soon be big in Europe too.

“We’ll make Inter great again, continuing the tradition and the success achieved under the [former owners] Moratti family.”

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Inter Milan have won the Italian league 18 times and the European Cup or Champions League three times, but have not won a trophy since 2011.

Zhang promised to pump in cash for new players.

“Suning will inject a steady stream of capital investment in Inter Milan, which will help it attract more talented players worldwide to once again win glory with strong backing,” he said.

At the carefully choreographed press conference, a spokesman for the Chinese Football Association congratulated Suning on the purchase, and said it would have great benefits for the country’s football development, enhancing the country’s professional clubs and boosting youth development.

Simon Chadwick, professor of Sports Enterprise at the University of Salford Manchester, an expert in China’s sports industry, said the deal “could mark the strategic renewal of Italian football”.

“Serie A was the first European league to be shown live on TV in China in the 1980s, at a time when Italian clubs were dominant in Europe,” he said. “Hence, Chinese people of that generation have a strong predisposition towards Italian football, especially AC and Inter who were strong at the time.

“As such, there is a significant potential Chinese fan base for Italian football, and the people we now see making investment decisions on behalf of Chinese corporations are those who are part of this lineage.

“Hence, as European clubs have gone chasing Chinese investment (which many are actively engaged in doing), Italian clubs have been in a stronger position to attract investors given the historical associations between China and Italy. Allied to this, Italian football has been on its knees for some time; the Suning investment is highly opportune and could mark the strategic renewal of Italian football.”

Many Chinese businesses have been moving into sport, and football in particular, after the State Council declared that China’s sports industry would grow 15-fold by 2020.

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And president Xi Jinping, famed as a football lover, has said that the country must qualify for, host, and win football’s World Cup in the coming decades.

“For Suning, this is a further component in the development of China’s conglomerated model of football, whereby corporations seem to be creating diversified business portfolios aimed at exerting control and influence across various levels of football’s supply-chain,” added professor Chadwick.

“In football terms, Suning’s investment will give access to the European market e.g. for players. It will also enable the corporation to send players from Jiangsu to gain experience playing at the highest level of European football.

“In business terms, the move also potentially facilitates Suning’s entrance to the European market place; one envisages Suning’s retailing interests being rolled-out globally and being eased-in across Europe using their Inter associations.

“For Inter, financial clout seems to be the biggest impact...there should be funding for players, plus there may also be some movement on stadium developments that will enable the club to become more financially sustainable in the long-term.”

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According to Reuters, former president Massimo Moratti, will sell off his entire stake in Internazionale, just under 30 per cent, while current majority owner Erick Thohir will cut his stake to 31 per cent and stay on as president.

Thohir said in a statement: “This new partnership with Suning Holdings Group is a game changer for Inter Milan. Over the past two and a half years we have been building on the existing solid base at the club and this new partnership will enable us to take the next step in the project and return Inter Milan to its rightful place in world club football.

“The popularity of the game, particularly in Asia and China, is going through a period of massive growth. This agreement with Suning Holdings Group will allow us to get much closer to our huge fan base in China and the Asia Pacific region. We are looking forward to a hugely successful partnership together.”

China will become Inter Milan’s “second home” added Zhang in the statement.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity for Inter Milan to grow further in China, and China will become the second home of Inter Milan,” he said.

“In addition, Suning’s capital investment and abundant resources will enable Inter Milan to return to its glory days and become a stronger property able to attract top stars from across the globe.”

The company also owns Jiangsu Suning in the Chinese Super League, and stunned world football in the winter transfer window by smashing regional transfer records for players such as Alex Teixeira for 50 million euros and Ramires for 28 million. The Inter deal would also boost the Chinese club, Zhang added.

“The acquisition of Inter Milan is part of Suning’s strategy in the development of the sports industry and driving our campaign in the health and lifestyle consumer market. This will not only improve Jiangsu Suning FC’s technical set-up and operational capabilities, but will also help Suning to grow internationally, enabling us to become a household brand name in Europe and across the world.”

Suning is one of the largest retailers in China, principally of electronic goods, with over 1,600 stores and an e-commerce platform.

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Wanda was the first Chinese company to buy a stake in a major European club when it bought 20 per cent in Atletico Madrid.

China Media Capital now own 13 per cent of Manchester City, while smaller firms have bought stakes or outright ownership of clubs in Spain, Netherlands, France and the Czech Republic.

Chinese investor Xia Jiantong recently agreed a deal for Aston Villa, relegated from the English Premier League this season, while Internazionale’s crosstown rivals AC Milan, owned by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, have also been linked with a Chinese buyout.

Wang Jianlin’s Wanda also recently bought sports marketing giant InFront and signed a key sponsorship deal with Fifa, moves seen by many as the first steps in delivering the World Cup to China as Xi craves.

China has declared its goal of becoming a “world football superpower” by 2050 and wants 50 million people playing the game by 2020, according to a CFA plan.