China Digest | CBA unveils national team plans; Milan sale finalised; Lander scraps Southampton deal

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

Plans unveiled for parallel national basketball teams

Yao Ming’s promised reforms as the new head of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) are beginning to take shape, but not as most would have foreseen. Plans released in recent days have announced the creation of two, parallel senior national teams, with each team playing different international competitions over the next two years, including the 2017 Asian Cup and the 2018 Asian Games, before being combined for the 2019 Fiba Basketball World Cup, to be held in China, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Two head coaches will be appointed later this week, each supported by foreign assistants.

Media and fans have largely derided the novel idea, with some concerned that two teams with different playing styles would make it difficult to combine them later, while others doubt that the two sides will truly be treated equally. But the stated aim is to foster more competition among both players and coaches, while also providing more opportunities for younger players. It’s significant that Yao has managed to push through a major reform so soon after becoming CBA head, but with reports that his first three reforms were all rejected by officials, there are still questions over how much power Yao actually wields.

Berlusconi finalises AC Milan sale

The seemingly never-ending AC Milan saga has now finally come to an end. However, with the headlines all proclaiming – as they have for the best part of two years – that the iconic Italian Serie A football club will now be in Chinese hands, it was in fact American money that saved this deal at the eleventh hour. While the Chinese consortium had originally been named Sino-Europe Sports (SES), a newly-created vehicle, Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux, will be the one now controlling Milan, after US private equity fund Elliott agreed to provide the necessary funds to complete the transaction after state-owned bank Haixia Capital withdrew following reported pressure from Chinese regulators.

Little-known Chinese businessman Li Yonghong will still be the new man in charge, but it is believed that if Li is unable to pay back a €300m loan to Elliott under the terms agreed, then Elliott would take control of the club. Li turned to Elliott as a replacement for Haixia Capital. For now, this acquisition rivals Suning’s purchase of Inter Milan as the most prestigious China-related football deal – much to the chagrin of Dutch great and Milan legend Marco Van Basten.

Lander Sports scraps Southampton investment deal

While the Milan deal was rescued by the skin of its teeth, elsewhere the situation is not looking so bright. Reuters reports that China’s Lander Sports has scrapped plans to buy an 80-per-cent stake in English Premier league football club Southampton, since the group, which had previously rebranded itself from a real estate company into a sports firm, did not know whether it would be able to secure approval from the relevant authorities. Meanwhile, it is not clear whether other interested parties, including CITIC Securities and Amer International, are continuing their interest in the club, but the latest pronouncements from officials in China would suggest otherwise.

Reading could be denied Premier League entry amid Chinese takeover links

The Telegraph says Reading could be denied entry into the Premier League should the club win promotion – if businessman Dai Yongge and his sister Dai Xiuli take control of the Championship outfit. The Dai siblings were blocked from purchasing Hull City last year due to “serious concerns” from the Premier League over the takeover’s structure, concerns that would presumably still be valid should there be parallels between the Hull and Reading deals.

Meanwhile, another Championship club, Brentford, is reportedly being eyed up by Chinese-American businessman Chien Lee, owner of French club Nice, though the Financial Times stresses that discussions are “still at an early stage” and that a deal “may not be completed”.

CF Reus acquires stake in third-tier Chinese club

Spanish second-tier football club CF Reus has bought a 29-per-cent stake in Chinese third-tier club Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT). The deal has been brokered by former Barcelona chief executive Joan Oliver, now with Reus, who says he is aiming to take BIT to the top of the Chinese pyramid within a decade. With the landscape now clearly altered since the flood of Chinese purchases of overseas clubs last year, this deal could spark a new wave of foreign investment in Chinese football.

Barcelona signs latest Chinese partner

Speaking of Barcelona, the Spanish LaLiga giant has announced that Chinese real estate firm Shimao Group will become a new regional partner, with the grandiose aim of promoting “cultural and sporting development, social responsibility and better lifestyles among Chinese people.”

Sina Sports strengthens golf portfolio

Chinese online media group Sina Sports has signed content deals with golf’s PGA Tour and the LPGA ladies’ tour, which will be focused on short-form video content, while the internet portal will continue to serve as the official Chinese website of the LPGA. The deal has been described as “long term”, though the exact length of the contract remains unknown.

Elsewhere this week…

And some further reading…


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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