China’s Wanda has struck a strategic alliance with FIFA, the governing body of world soccer and organizer of the once every four years soccer World Cup.
Last week in Zurich, Wanda agreed to be a partner of FIFA, a deal which gives it the highest level of sponsorship, and marketing rights to all FIFA competitions including the next four World Cup tournaments.
Wanda detailed the strategic partnership at an event headed by group chairman Wang Jianlin, in Beijing on Monday. FIFA president Gianni Infantino sent a video message.
The strategic deal sets Wanda on course to be a major developer of ‘the beautiful game’ in China. Soccer is hugely popular in China, but its national team struggles in international competitions and its club game has been wracked by scandals.
Wang did not shy away from discussion of FIFA’s own scandals, but said instead: “We continue to believe in the development of football. It is Spring-time for football in Asia.”
FIFA’s problems may actually have opened the door to Wanda. “After FIFA’s own anti-corruption investigations and the banning of some FIFA officials from the game, a number of sponsors dropped out. There can only be eight top level sponsors, so that created an opportunity for us,” said Wang. “Indeed within the next year there may be one or two other Chinese companies that become FIFA partners.”
Sports development has been set as a national priority by the highest levels of the Chinese regime. That enables Wanda to claim that it is doing government bidding in supporting grass roots development of the game in China, while also developing football as a business.
Wanda last February acquired the Infront sports marketing company, that has previously represented broadcast rights to many of the world’s biggest sports events. Infront is headed by Philippe Blatter, nephew of disgraced FIFA former president Sepp Blatter. Philippe Blatter, a former consultant with McKinsey, was last year made head of Wanda’s fast-growing sports unit, which now also includes the World Ironman group.
In January last year Wanda paid close to $50 million (Euros45 million) for a 20% stake in Atletico Madrid, the club champions of Spanish soccer.
Wanda’s sponsorship deal was announced only days after FIFA announced a loss of $122 million, its first deficit since 2002.
Wanda has been hugely busy this year in mergers and acquisitions connected to the wider entertainment business. At the time of the $3.5 billion purchase of “The Dark Knight” producer Legendary Entertainment, Wanda chairman and founder Wang Jianlin said the group was preparing five major deals in 2016.
The company’s name has inevitably been linked to ongoing corporate activity in the global film and entertainment industry. These have included speculation that Wanda may be a bidder for the piece of Paramount Pictures that Viacom has said it is looking to sell. Wanda’s name was also linked to the sale of Mars Entertainment, the largest chain of cinemas in Turkey.
So far this year Wanda has been involved in:
January – announced acquisition of Legendary.
February — unveiled the joint venture development of EuropaCity, a retail and entertainment complex near Paris, France.
Earlier in March — agreed to pay $1.1 billion for North American cinema chain Carmike through its U.S. listed AMC cinema chain.