CHINA DIGEST | The varying fortunes of takeovers; Bundesliga X Baidu; Chung’s wishful thinking

Weekly round-up of sports business news from the Chinese sports industry.

Varying fortunes of takeovers show uncertain climate

The never-ending AC Milan takeover saga saw yet another deadline come and go, and the Associated Press is now reporting March 31 as the new closing date for Sino-Europe Sports (SES) to take control of the club. The report quotes SES as saying it is still “strongly committed” to the deal. However, its reference to the latest delay being "due to circumstances beyond its control” appears to refer to a widely-reported government crackdown on overseas M&A deals as Beijing looks to make it harder for capital to exit the country. In other words, March 31 still appears very optimistic.

French football club Lyon – runner-up in Ligue 1 last year – appears to have had no such issues as Chinese investment firm IDG has announced the acquisition of a 20-per-cent stake in the club, worth €100m. That this deal, first announced in August last year, has now gone through while Milan’s flounders highlights the uncertainty surrounding Chinese outbound investment at the moment, with the government refusing to issue concrete guidelines, and selectively delaying deals.

CSL kick-off: LeSports drops out; clubs outspend Europe

Following news last week that Chinese online sports broadcaster LeSports was stripped of its Asian Football Confederation broadcast rights, the platform has lost another prime property. The Chinese Super League, which kicked off its new season at the weekend, is now being broadcast online by PPTV – owned by Suning, which also controls Inter Milan and the CSL’s Jiangsu club. PPTV’s deal, which is worth 1.35bn RMB ($195m) and includes rights to show all 240 games this season, gives it exclusive online rights. State television CCTV will broadcast two games per round, and local TV stations will also have rights to their hometown teams. Fans in China tend to watch far more on PC and mobile than their counterparts in the west, but this lack of exclusivity was a big reason why the LeSports deal fell apart.

The CSL outspent European football leagues in the January/February player transfer window for the second year in a row. This year's £331m outlay topped the £215m spent by English Premier League teams, and was more than the combined sum spent by the Spanish, French, Italian and German leagues. Despite new rules introduced once the transfer window had already opened which restricted the number of foreign players allowed in match squads, the CSL, which is now being broadcast in 96 countries and regions around the world (Chinese language link), broke its own record from last winter by £36m, with Oscar’s transfer from Chelsea to Shanghai SIPG for a reported £60m leading the way.

German football strengthens ties

Leading Chinese search engine Baidu partnered with the Bundesliga, making the German league the first in Europe to have an official web presence at Baidu. German football has long been popular in China, with the league enjoying widespread coverage on CCTV for many years, especially after CCTV’s deal with the EPL ended after the 2002-03 season, and coverage of the English league didn't return for more than a decade.

The general secretary of the German FA, Friedrich Curtius, told kicker he wants to send the German national team to play a friendly in China by 2019 at the latest. China has signed a number of bilateral football agreements with countries in Europe and beyond since announcing widespread football reforms two years ago, but if this game comes to fruition it would mark a rare example of something concrete coming out of the partnerships.

Chung's wishful thinking

Korean FA President Chung Mong-gyu said he’d like to see South Korea submit a joint Fifa World Cup bid with North Korea, China and Japan for the 2030 tournament. While making for a nice headline, this appears to be little more than wishful thinking. In addition to longstanding hostilities between the two Koreas – who, technically, are still at war – China has its own rivalry with Japan, and is currently battling Seoul over the US-backed THAAD missile defence system, which has even spurred protests at Korean businesses in China. Chinese and Korean officials are currently competing to be elected to the recently-expanded Fifa Council, and with China known to favour a solo bid to host the World Cup at the earliest opportunity (2030, under Fifa’s current rotation policy), don’t expect this joint proposal to leave the drawing board.

Fenway pushes predictions app

Fenway Games’ biggest deal to date will see its SnapPlay product enter the Chinese market thanks to a deal with Chinese social sports platform HQ Sports. HQ’s MiaoHi social sports app and its Jihai match analytics app will promote to its claimed 400m userbase a social version of Fenway’s instant-betting app. According to SBC News, SnapPlay is a version of Fenway’s Snapbet product, in which users forecast what happens in the next 60 seconds of the game they are watching. Launched last year, HQ Sports is headed by former Man City football player Sun Jihai and includes China Media Capital and Tencent among its investors.

Elsewhere this week…


The China Digest is written by Mark Dreyer, who runs the China Sports Insider website, which features sports business news and analysis related to China’s fast-growing sports industry. He has worked for Sky Sports, Fox Sports, AP Sports and many others, and has covered major sporting events on five continents, including three Olympic Games. He has been based in China since 2007.


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