Wanda Group strikes FIFA partnership

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Wang Jianlin and Gianni Infantino

The Wanda Group has become FIFA’s latest global partner, with the property-developer-conglomerate sponsoring competitions, including four world cups, through 2030. Wanda becomes the first Chinese company to join the top tier of FIFA sponsors, a small group consisting of companies Adidas, Coca-Cola, Gazprom, Hyundai/KIA and Visa. Previously, Chinese solar panel manufacturer Yingli Solar was a second-tier Fifa sponsor of the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

The Chinese partnership is the first major success for the world soccer governing body which is still recovering from last year’s corruption scandal in which current and former top level officials where named in indictments by the United States. The subsequent fallout eventually led to the unseating of long term FIFA President Sepp Blatter and the election of Gianni Infantino in an effort to steer the organization toward more transparent governance and stem the pressure on existing commercial partners. As the first top tier deal of Infantino’s administration the Wanda partnership suggests the change may have worked and stemmed the uproar over the 2015 scandal.

No financial terms of the deal were disclosed but estimates of partner level fees ranged between $24m and $44m in 2010. If the growth in soccer television rights in the past five years is instructive then it would be reasonable to expect those partner fees to have increased in the time since.

The Wanda Group likely sounds familiar because it’s part of the handful of Chinese companies that have become increasingly active in the soccer media space, with Wanda most recently purchasing a majority stake in sports rights leader Infront Sports & Media. This jump in private activity is no fluke as it is an open secret that the Chinese government sees progress in soccer as a national priority in terms of both international prestige and also commercial opportunity.

Wang Jianlin, Wanda’s Chairman had this to say at the partnership’s announcement:

“The Chinese Government is committed to this development and as a company we strongly support these efforts. In order to professionally grow the existing grassroots movement into a sustainable and well managed sport, we are delighted to tap into the vast experience of the most competent advisor – FIFA. We believe in football as one of the most attractive sports globally and have the highest trust in FIFA and its newly established organisational structure under the lead of President Gianni Infantino.”

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Wanda Group strikes FIFA partnership

$10.4m Great Escape for Bolton Wanderers

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Wanderers fans from a different escape back in 2012 Credit: Getty Images

Bolton have been sold for $10.4m to Sport Shield Group Consortium, an investor group headed by former Wanderers striker Dean Holdsworth. The deal was completed on February 23rd and is still pending ratification from the Football League while the club struggles on and off the pitch.

The troubled club has amassed an unpaid tax bill of approximately $4m and has been pursued by the UK tax body HMRC. The agency had sought to force the club into bankruptcy as a result of the unpaid debt, however a two week adjournment was allowed by the overseeing court in light of the pending sale. If the sale has not been approved and the tax debt not paid at the end of the period, bankruptcy proceedings are likely to continue.

New owners Sport Shield Group Consortium are expected to pay an additional $17m over the next five years while current owner and chairman Eddie Davies will remain involved in club operations but not in financial matters. The club is currently under an enforced Football League transfer embargo after breaching financial fair play regulations related to its high debt ratio.

Performances on the pitch have mirrored the club’s woes off it, after their last appearance in the Premier League in 2012, the club has languished in the Championship and currently sits second to bottom of the second tier, seven points adrift of safety. Even with a successful takeover and staving off administration the club’s immediate future is filled with a fight for Championship survival and the threat of an even barer financial budget in League One.

$10.4m Great Escape for Bolton Wanderers

City Football Group brings in Chinese partners for $400m

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Chinese Premier Xi Jinping, Sergio Aguero and British Prime Minister David Cameron

Chinese investors have agreed to pay $400m for a stake in City Football Group, the parent company of Premier League title challenger Manchester City Football Club. The funds come from a consortium led by private equity groups China Media Capital and CITIC Capital, both investment funds backed by the Chinese government. The deal will see the consortium take a 13 per cent share in City Football Group, valuing the company at approximately $3bn.

Over the past seven years City Football Group has knit together a global football media and operations conglomerate with an active presence on four continents. In addition to Manchester City FC, the group also owns Melbourne City (A-League), NYC FC (MLS), and holds a minority stake in the Yokohama F. Marinos (J-League).  The new Chinese investors contribute more than just capital, they bring access to the rapidly growing Asian media and consumer markets for City Football Group’s growing stable of brands. China Media Capital is an active investor in sports media, just recently investing $1.25bn to purchase the rights for the Chinese Super League and investing alongside Dalian Wanda in sports marketing firm Infront Sports & Media.

Chinese investors have been extremely active in the soccer market, with domestic teams like the Guangzhou Evergrande closely tied to corporate ownership and La Liga clubs Valencia and Atletico Madrid bringing on new owners. The City Football Group stake represents the first public investment in the English Premier League by Chinese investors, a move that holds particular significance for the league’s growth in the Asian region.

Khaldoon al-Mubarak, chairman of City Football Group, said it best: “Football is the most loved, played and watched sport in the world and in China, the exponential growth pathway for the game is both unique and hugely exciting.”

City Football Group brings in Chinese partners for $400m

Blatter faces Swiss investigation

The storm around FIFA continues to grow as Sepp Blatter is reportedly under investigation by Swiss authorities for violating his fiduciary duties by redirecting funds for the personal benefit of other members. It is thought that a 2005 sale of TV rights to a company affiliated with Jack Warner and a 2011 payment to Michel Platini are at the heart of the investigation.

The BBC has an excellent article covering the report, I suggest you take a read over there. Full article>>

Blatter faces Swiss investigation

SkySports win Premier League clip rights

Sky Sports have won the rights to show clips from all Premier League games across its digital properties in both web and mobile formats. The agreement commences in the 2016/17 season and will cover a period of three years in which the broadcaster will provide in-match and highlight content to its subscribers. The financial terms of the agreement were undisclosed.

The clip rights packages broadcast in-game clips for all matches other than 3pm Saturday kick-offs and extended clips of all matches on a Monday morning following a weekend match round. The rights are deliberately structured to avoid overlap with the Match of the Day highlights rights recently renewed by the BBC for £204m ($314m) over three seasons. The Match of the Day package continues to own the Saturday and Sunday broadcast spots with longer format highlights as well as adding a midweek highlight program option.

Home of the Premier League

Sky Sports, a News Corp subsidiary, will also be distributing clips in the United Kingdom through News UK, the News Corp newspaper publisher controlling The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times. News UK, formerly News International, was the previous clip rights holder having won the bid in 2013.

The clips package purchase (really a renewal under a different name) continues News Corp’s strategy of dominating coverage of the Premier League in the UK to drive pay-tv subscriptions and readership at its digital properties. Separately, Sky Sports has recently agreed to pay £4.2b ($6.6b) to secure broadcast rights for the league from 2016/17 to 2018/19.

Clips ARE CONTENT FOR new mediA

Clip rights have grown in importance as soccer content distribution has grown to include new time frames (near-live, post-match, post-weekend and post-season) and new formats (mobile, tablet) that change the way supporters consume the game. Social media has become an extremely popular method for watchers looking to watch or relive goals and other dramatic game moments. The content ranges in quality from phone-videos of tv screens to high definition captures distributed in short form video or animated GIFs and are largely supplied by amateurs doing it in their spare time.

Despite the lack of polish amateur clips have grown in popularity so much that it has caught the eye of officials, with the Premier League warning would be highlight makers to find another hobby. Whether the home recordings were ever big enough to threaten the value of an official clips package is up for debate, but it certainly hints at their rising value in the years to come.

SkySports win Premier League clip rights

Historic collective rights sale for La Liga fetches €600m

Telefonica has bought the domestic broadcast rights for Spain’s La Liga and Segunda Division in a €600m (~$667m) sale. The one year deal covers the broadcast and audio coverage rights of La Liga, the second division and Copa del Rey matches for the 2015/16 season. International rights are still in contention and expected to yield a similar figure.

Historic Sale

The sale is the first time that Spanish clubs have sold their rights as a package. Traditionally clubs have negotiated media deals on an individual basis, an arrangement which heavily favors Barcelona and Real Madrid, with both commanding huge contracts thanks to their global brands and high profile players. Other clubs have benefited much less from the explosion in interest in Spanish soccer, with the two giants often taking as much as half of the TV money flowing into the league.  The disparity is particularly pronounced for clubs in the second division with several clubs declaring bankruptcy over the past few years as a result of the financial crisis and low media coverage.

Worries about balance in the league have simmered for years but calls for change accelerated recently and culminated in a royal decree mandating collective rights negotiation. The decree was approved by the government in May and set off a brief strike as Spanish players protested the interference and distribution of TV revenues. The National Court quickly ruled the stoppage unlawful and allowed the season to end in normal fashion.

2015/16 and Beyond

The 2015/16 package is still a half step towards complete collective bargaining, as Telefonica holds individual deals with Barcelona and Real Madrid’s for one more season. Each contract is estimated to be worth approximately €140m ($160m); when combined with the €600m deal this suggests a combined value of domestic Spanish rights in the ~€900m ($1bn) range for the 2015/16 season.

While the collective sale is a triumph for the LFP the value still falls short of the eye-watering growth of the English Premier League. Jut in February the Premier League announced a new domestic deal worth €2.32bn annually (2.59bn) over three seasons beginning in 2016, a 70% rise on the previous €1.39bn (1.55bn) agreement. Much of the difference is explained by a much less developed market for subscription tele€vision in Spain (2014: ~€2bn) compared to the UK (2014: ~€6bn); but while currently smaller, the Spanish subscription tv market is growing rapidly adding 76% more subscribers in 2014 alone.

International Rights

Much of the short term potential for La Liga is likely to be realized outside of Spain. International rights sales only brought in €200m in 2014/15 and expectations around the new deal are high with many predicting at least a doubling in value. With Telefonica submitting a €450m bid as recently as two weeks ago an even greater increase seems possible.

The established pay-tv markets of Western Europe are low hanging fruit for La Liga, especially with growing interest in clubs outside the big two like Atletico and Valencia. The biggest opportunity though remains increasing league adoption in Asia and tapping into a generation of supporters that have grown up idolizing Ronaldo and Messi. The potential has not gone unnoticed with clubs have been taking on Asian investors and forming strategic commercial and media partnerships to spread their influence in the region.

Historic collective rights sale for La Liga fetches €600m

Hui regains control of Guangzhou Evergrande

Hui Ka-yan has regained majority ownership of Chinese Super League club Guangzhou Evergrande, after repurchasing a portion of shares from Alibaba Group for a reported ¥400m (~USD $65m).

Hui bought Evergrande for ¥100m in 2010 following a match-fixing scandal that saw the club relegated. His investment brought immediate success with the Guangzhou based club promoted in the following year and going on to win the league as well as become the first Chinese club to win the AFC Champions League cup.

In 2014 he sold a 50% stake to Alibaba for ¥1.2b, netting a 719 million yuan profit on the sale. With the recent repurchase Hui has increases his holdings to 60%, leaving Alibaba with a 40% interest in the club.

The ownership shuffle also brings management changes with Zhang Yong, Alibaba’s Chief Operating Officer, stepping down from his role as CEO to be replaced by Ke Peng, a Vice Chairman of Evergrande Real Estate Group.

While the changes in leadership and price of the deal might be eye-brow raising, the truth of the moves are likely to be a blander reality. Alibaba’s sale is less a statement of intent than a divestment from a wildly successful investment which has already seen the company realize  ¥280m in profit along with huge branding windfalls for Alibaba and Taobao. It is unsurprising that Jack Ma would take a step back from the club, both financially and operationally, in favor putting those resources to work elsewhere, particularly with Alibaba now operating under the scrutiny of public investors.

Hui regains control of Guangzhou Evergrande