China for soc­cer clubs not widely known no pass­ing fad

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA -

Chi­nese in­vest­ment in Euro­pean soc­cer is no short­term phe­nom­e­non, and the op­por­tu­ni­ties it of­fers for the con­ti­nent’s clubs are “ex­tra­or­di­nary”, ac­cord­ing to the CEO of In­ter Mi­lan, one of the lat­est big names to come un­der Chi­nese own­er­ship.

Chi­nese cor­po­ra­tion Sun­ing Hold­ings bought a ma­jor­ity stake in Italy’s In­ter in June, the first Serie A club to come un­der Chi­nese own­er­ship, fol­low­ing a se­ries of in­vest­ments and takeovers, par­tic­u­larly in Eng­land on the back of a pres­i­den­tial de­cree that en­cour­aged wide­spread par­tic­i­pa­tion in the world’s most pop­u­lar sport.

“There is def­i­nitely an en­vi­ron­ment that en­cour­ages in­vest­ment in soc­cer now,” In­ter CEO Michael Bol­ing­broke told the Lead­ers in Sport Business Sum­mit on Wed­nes­day.

“There is a big drive for health in China, and soc­cer is one of the fa­vorite sports of the pres­i­dent. China needs know-how, so they can run leagues as suc­cess­fully as we do, while in re­turn the op­por­tu­ni­ties for clubs are enor­mous.”

Sun­ing, pre­dom­i­nantly a white goods re­tailer, has a $40 bil­lion turnover, and Bol­ing­broke says that hav­ing a part­ner with such an es­tab­lished reach is key to clubs mak­ing real in­roads.

Pre­vi­ously, many Euro­pean clubs have some­times lim­ited their bids to crack the most pop­u­lous coun­try to the odd friendly and some replica shirt pro­mo­tion, but now they are tak­ing things far more se­ri­ously.

In­ter is about to open an of­fice in the Nan­jing, a city of more than 8 mil­lion peo­ple and HQ of Sun­ing, and will em­ploy 12 staff.

“We needed a Chi­nese part­ner to give us ac­cess to what is a vast mar­ket,” said Bol­ing­broke, who was at the heart of Manch­ester United’s push into Asia as CEO of the English Premier League club he left to join In­ter in 2014.

“They al­ready con­nect with cus­tomers and they are our fans – that cre­ates that bridge that Euro­peans strug­gle with.

“We’re the fourth most pop­u­lar club in China, but there is enough for ev­ery­one. But you need a part­ner and we have one who owns a club in the Chi­nese Su­per League, which is a great help as well.

“It is very dif­fi­cult to keep a per­ma­nent brand pres­ence, but if you get it right, the prize is ex­tra­or­di­nary – you have ac­cess to 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple.”

While In­ter and oth­ers are reap­ing im­me­di­ate ben­e­fits from Chi­nese in­vest­ment, al­ready seen in the club’s trans­fer spend­ing, China’s eye is also on the long game.

Top Euro­pean clubs are prov­ing canny in­vest­ments, but the flow of knowl­edge Bloomber­gand ex­pe­ri­ence con­tribute­din the other to di­rec­tion­this just as im­por­tant.

There is def­i­nitely an en­vi­ron­ment that en­cour­ages in­vest­ment in soc­cer now.”

Michael Bol­ing­broke, In­ter Mi­lan CEO

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