China Digest | Formula E to stage race in Sanya

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

Formula E to stage race in Sanya

Formula E has confirmed the location of its second China race next season will be the tropical island of Hainan, with the race scheduled for the city of Sanya on March 23, two weeks after a race in Hong Kong. Beijing hosted the opening races of Formula E’s first two races, with Hong Kong taking over opening day honours for the third and fourth seasons. For the fifth season, which begins late this year, Hong Kong remains on the calendar, but will move to March 2019, while a long-anticipated second race in China has been added. Beijing was thought to be in contention, but organisers announced last week that Hainan, whose provincial government has been pulling out all the stops to attract major international sporting events, had been chosen instead.

Alibaba and Tencent invest in City Football Group stakeholders

Chinese media and entertainment conglomerate CMC, which owns a 13 percent stake in the City Football Group (CFG), has raised 10bn RMB ($1.5bn) in A-round fundraising from investors including rival Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Tencent. CFG, which owns Manchester City and is also full or part owner of another five professional football clubs around the world, has previously said it would be interested in adding a Chinese club to its roster. Alibaba owns 38 percent of Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou Evergrande, while Tencent has deep links in sports both through sponsorship channels and its own online platform, Tencent Sports.

Tencent extends Tour de France digital rights

Speaking of Tencent, the firm has extended its digital rights deal for the Tour de France in a one-year deal, having also held rights for last year’s event. Tencent has said it plans to add extra features to this year’s coverage, including analysis from former riders, although only one Chinese cyclist, Ji Cheng, has ever ridden in the feature race. Tour de France organiser ASO has been keen to push the sport in China in recent years, with the introduction of some criterium-style races in Shanghai, and recently extended its TV broadcast deal with Chinese state broadcaster CCTV until 2021

Chinese tennis star signs with Asics

Zhang Shuai has become the first female tennis player from China to sign with Japanese shoe brand ASICS, with Zhang debuting the partnership at this year’s Wimbledon. The firm said Zhang would join tennis-related events to expand ASICS’ business in Asia and the US. Zhang, who has flirted with the world’s top 30 over the past couple of years, was described by ASICS as a “rising star”, aged 29. ASICS will be hoping she can make a similarly late breakthrough like Li Na, who won two majors after that age. Li remains one of the highest-earning sports stars in China, even after her retirement, and has also returned to Wimbledon this year to play in the Ladies’ Invitational Doubles.

Villa and Milan owners still facing financial problems

There’s more bad news for Chinese-owned football clubs in Europe, with both AC Milan and Aston Villa in danger of slipping from the grasp of their respective owners. US hedge fund Elliott Management has launched proceedings to take control of Serie A’s AC Milan, after the club failed to repay a loan last week. Elliott had been poised to step in later this year if larger loan repayments were to be missed, but the perilous financial situation at Milan, which saw the club thrown out of next season’s Uefa Europa League, forced owner Li Yonghong to borrow additional funds under a much tighter timeframe. Meanwhile, Aston Villa owner Tony Xia has written an open letter to fans in which he admitted he had turned away “numerous approaches” by parties looking to buy the club, but with the club sacking director of football Steve Round in another attempt to slash costs, Xia – who recently received a slap on the wrists from authorities in China – could be forced to relinquish control sooner rather than later.

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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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