Corporate investment flooding into China’s sports sector

Kaisa and Alibaba have already created their own 10 billion yuan sports funds, and experts now expect more cash to be poured into new facilities

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2016, 5:57pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2016, 10:57pm

China’s sports industry is attracting record levels of corporate funding, as the central government continues to show its strong support for the sector.

The latest more comes from property giant Kaisa Group, which has just announced the creation of a 10 billion yuan fund which is likely to be invested in the building of intelligent stadiums and other training facilities, marking the firm’s biggest expansion yet into sport.

The fund is being jointly created by Kaisa Culture, a newly formed offshoot, its finance arm Kaisa Capital, and the domestic private equity firm Kaixin Capital, the group said on Monday.

“Despite China’s economic slowdown, sport-related consumption is booming as people’s personal income grows, as does their awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle,” said Lillian Chiou, an analyst with Standard & Poor’s.

In a similar move last year, e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba Group formed Alisports to boost its share of the domestic sports industry.

Despite China’s economic slowdown, sport-related consumption is booming as people’s personal income grows, as does their awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle

In June this year, it then said it plans to set up a fund worth up to 10 billion yuan to focus on investment in sporting facilities. Its ultimate aim is to open thousands of sports venues in more than 100 Chinese cities. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

China’s richest man Wang Jianlin is also growing his presence on the sports fields of China.

His Wanda Group has already invested US$2 billion in sports-related acquisitions, including a 1.05 billion deal to buy Infront, the Swiss sports marketing group.

Wanda hasn’t set a limit on its sports investment, Wang said in an interview last month, as the sector will be a key component in its future investment portfolio.

Many other companies and investors have also been rushing into sports-related spending amid the central government’s encouragement of more active lifestyles, and in an effort to stimulate domestic consumption.

Within its 13th Five-Year Plan, the General Administration of Sport of China has the goal of creating an industry worth 3,000 billion yuan, which could contribute around 1 per cent of national gross domestic product by 2020, compared to 0.7 per cent in 2015.

The plan encourages local governments to establish sports industry investment funds, similar to Kaisa and Alibaba, using private sector and public cash, and also to expand their sporting interests through public-private-partnership financed projects.

Kaisa Culture has already predicted strong future growth in demand for sports venues and equipment, as the country hosts more major sporting events, such as last year’s IAAF World Championships in Athletics, held in Beijing.

“10 billion yuan is a very small amount for a sports industrial fund,” said Pan Shijian, a partner at Kaixing Capital. He said building one major city sports centre can cost more than 1 billion yuan.

In future, Kaisa hopes to go “asset light”, by joining forces with different investors.

The company currently operates five sports centres and a sports-themed park, in Guangdong province, and in future it is likely to continue as an operator of venues.

S&P’s Chiou said: “With the government’s supportive policies and the upcoming 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, we believe the sports sector has entered a new era of rapid growth, which will outpace GDP.”

Beijing won its bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics last year, and rumours continue that the government now has its sights firmly set on hosting the 2030 Fifa World Cup.