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China Digest | Wanda fights back for Wang Jianlin’s reputation

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

Wanda fights back for Wang Jianlin’s reputation

It’s been a tough week for the Chinese owners of various international sports properties. The Wanda Group, which owns sports marketing firm Infront, the Ironman Triathlon franchise and a stake in Atlético Madrid, has issued a strongly-worded statement refuting a post made on social media platform WeChat titled “Wang Jianlin Meets His Waterloo”, in reference to the troubles faced by Wanda’s boss, Wang Jianlin. Wanda also threatened legal action to protect the firm’s reputation. The widely-read article claimed Wanda had “obviously had its cash flow cut off” and that the company’s assets had “shrunk massively”, as well as a number of other claims. It’s not the first time that Wanda has released an official statement hitting back at stories in the press, following rumors that Wang was detained at Tianjin airport and prevented from leaving the country earlier this year.

More trouble for Milan’s new Chinese owners

Meanwhile, Chinese-owned AC Milan has urged Uefa to do more to help clubs who have undergone ownership transitions, painting the club as the victim amid a probe by Uefa into their finances. The Italian Serie A club had asked European football’s governing body to end a Financial Fair Play (FFP) investigation. But Uefa denied the request, citing ongoing “uncertainties” in the club’s current financial state, a euphemistic way of referring to the massive loans of up to 10 per cent that must be repaid to US private equity fund Elliott by October 2018. Milan could now be in line to receive FFP sanctions issued by Uefa, such as squad restrictions and a salary cap. AC Milan chief executive Marco Fassone said the club had shown Uefa a “solid strategy”, but expressed surprise that the absence of a bank guarantee had raised eyebrows at Uefa HQ. Uefa says it will monitor the situation and will make another assessment in the first months of 2018. Watch this space…

Suning-owned Inter in €300m bond offer

Cross-town rival Inter Milan has launched an offering of secured bonds worth €300m, which the club is set to promote in cities across Europe. Inter, which is owned by Chinese conglomerate Suning, said the senior secured notes will mature in 2022 and will be used to repay existing debts, repay a short-term capital line, underwrite the club’s general expenses and cover all fees and expenses of the notes. Goldman Sachs, from whom Inter took out a €230m loan before the sale to Suning was agreed, will act as global coordinator and bookrunner of the proposed offering. Separately, this piece on how Facebook has helped Inter become a media powerhouse is worth a read.

LPGA’s new China event replaces Alisport deal

The LPGA Tour has added a new event in China as part of its Fall Asian Swing to be held in Shanghai next October 18-21. Further details about this new tournament, including the title and course, will be announced next year, but what’s clear is that this is not the Alisports LPGA tournament, which was cancelled in October this year, reportedly due to a lack of a proper permit. It’s the LPGA’s only tournament on the Chinese mainland, although the Blue Bay PGA on Hainan Island remains, and is sandwiched between stops in Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. Alisports’ 10-year deal to host a tournament in Shanghai has evidently collapsed following this year’s cancellation, but the firm still says its cooperation with the LPGA is “steadily advancing”.

Chinese FA issues new youth team rules

A new rule set to be issued by the Chinese Football Association says that all China Super league and second-tier China League One sides must have their own youth teams at U19, U17, U15, U14 and U13 level playing in the CFA’s youth leagues by the start of the 2019 season, in addition to a first team and a reserve team, or risk losing their registration. All China League Two clubs, the country’s third tier of professional football, must have the same teams, with the exception of the reserve team and the U19 team. It’s the latest in a number of moves designed to improve China’s young players. The CFA now requires CSL and League One clubs to have at least two U23 players in their match day squad, with at least one starting. The CFA also said in May that, from next season, clubs must play at least as many U23 players as foreigners, although, as ever, the rules are subject to change at a moment’s notice.

Figo’s football academy shuts without warning

A Chinese football academy co-founded by Portuguese legend Luis Figo has shut without explanation, leaving its young trainees in the lurch. The Chengdu-based Winning League Figo Football Academy has not held training sessions for two months with staff nowhere to be seen, according to a local report. The franchise had 14 branches across China, employing 135 Portuguese and Chinese coaches, but has hit trouble in recent months. Mario Parreira, technical coordinator at the Academy’s Beijing branch, recently alleged that wages had gone unpaid amid accusations of mismanagement. Interestingly, Parreira also said that Ren Xuandong, the CEO and director of Birmingham City, had been forced to step aside as CEO of Nei Mongol Zhongyou FC a short time after Winning League bought the club in early 2016 due to “internal troubles”.

Beijing 2022 unveils Olympic emblems

Beijing 2022 has unveiled its Olympic and Paralympic emblems, with the inspiration behind the Olympic design coming from the Chinese character for winter, while the Paralympic emblem is inspired by the Chinese character for flying. Meanwhile, the organising committees of Pyeongchang 2018 and Beijing 2022 have signed a cooperative agreement that is designed to maximise the potential of both events. Lee Hee-beom, president of the Pyeongchang 2018 organising committee, said he hoped that this partnership would attract more Chinese tourists and provide a much-needed boost to ticket sales, while the Chinese side pledged to send officials to Pyeongchang 2018 to observe, ahead of a full debrief from the Korean side next June.

Also 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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