Wanda's sports purchase boosts China's World Cup ambitions

Updated: 2015-02-11 05:14

(China Daily)

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Wanda's sports purchase boosts China's World Cup ambitions

Wanda Group Co held a news conference in Beijing on Tuesday to announce the purchase of Swiss Sports Group Infront. [Photo by Zhu xingxin / China daily]

Hosting soccer's World Cup on home soil has long been a dream not only for Chinese fans, but also top leaders.

Chinese company Dalian Wanda Group's latest acquisition of Infront Sports & Media, an international sports marketer and soccer promoter, has taken a major step toward realizing this.

The acquisition has also cemented the company's status as a competent player in the global sports market.

On Tuesday, Dalian Wanda, a conglomerate operating in the property and entertainment sectors, said it had acquired Swiss-based sports marketing giant Infront from European private equity company Bridgepoint for about $1.2 billion.

The acquisition sees Wanda take a 68.2 percent stake in Infront, which focuses on distributing media rights for broadcasting sporting events including the FIFA World Cup and several Winter Olympic sports.

Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin said that by using expertise from Infront, Wanda expects to better support the development of soccer in China and to tap into the lucrative sports industry.

China is far from being qualified to host the World Cup due to the level of soccer development in the country, Wang said at the signing ceremony for the deal onTuesday.

"But Infronthas strengthin soccer promotional expertise and resources. I believe we can accelerate our progress to realizing the dream of hosting the World Cup, as our top leader expects, through the new partnership."

In 2011, then vice president Xi Jinping said his three wishes for Chinese soccer were qualifying for the World Cup, hosting the tournament and ultimately winning it.

Wanda's acquisition of Infront comes after it announced a 45million euro ($52 million) investment in Spanish soccer champions Atletico Madrid last month, its first overseas sports deal.

Wang said, "The growing sports market in China was the main motive for us to purchase Infront and to shift our focus fromthe traditional property business to the sports and culture industry."

Philippe Blatter, Infront's president and CEO and the nephew of FIFA President Sepp Blatter, also has high expectations for the potential of China's sports industry.

"With Wanda, we are committed to tackling a variety of major expansions worldwide with the aim of strengthening our position in the global sports market," said Blatter, who will continue to operate the agency with his management teamuntil 2020.

Zhang Qing, founder of sports marketing agency KeySports, said that by acquiring Infront, Wanda will be best positioned to support China in its bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics by using Infront's connections to all seven Olympic winter sports federations and various rights holders.

"Infront's know-how and resources in promoting and broadcasting Winter Olympics events will help to improve mass participation and commercial marketing of winter sports in China," Zhang said.