Chinese retail giant Suning reveals plans for a ‘soccer empire’ as Inter Milan purchase nears

Suning Commerce Group Co Ltd is set to tie up a deal for the Italian giants and ahs revealed details of a larger strategy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 June, 2016, 10:21pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 June, 2016, 10:21pm

Chinese retail giant Suning Commerce Group Co Ltd, set to tie up a deal for Italian soccer club Inter Milan, is already eyeing bigger ambitions: controlling a global sports empire stretching from soccer clubs to online broadcasting.

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
Mark Dreyer, China Sports Insider

Suning and Inter Milan are due to make an announcement in Nanjing today, 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 game, Suning’s deal for the 2010 European champions is just the start.

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

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 roughly 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 soccer power.

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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.

Suning, which has annual revenues topping US$20 billion, already has some blocks in place: it owns local club Jiangsu Suning and has splashed millions of 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 president Xi Jinping’s own goals, which include ambitious plans to create a domestic sports industry worth $850 billion by 2025. Xi is a keen soccer fan and wants China to one day host, and win, the World Cup.

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“Suning is definitely now seen as a bit of a national champion, on par with the likes of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Dalian Wanda,” said Mark Dreyer, Beijing-based founder of 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 England’s Manchester City, Spain’s Atletico Madrid and New York City FC, while 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.

It was reported last week that Suning’s deal for Inter was imminent and that the firm was looking to buy the UK-based Stellar Group, a leading soccer agency.

Inter is currently controlled by Indonesian tycoon Erick Thohir with 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 750 million (HK$6.62 billion).