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China’s Fosun Buys English Soccer Club Wolverhampton Wanderers

Fosun, the Chinese conglomerate that owns part of Jeff Robinov’s Studio 8 and is co-producing Ang Lee’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” has joined the crowd of Asian investors buying European sports teams.

Fosun has bought Wolverhampton Wanderers, a team from England’s Midlands region that plays in the Championship, the second tier English league. It finished 14th last year. Nicknamed ‘Wolves,’ the club confirmed the news on its website on Thursday. By late-evening Thursday Fosun International had not notified the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, where its shares are traded.

The club said that the deal gave Fosun 100% ownership following a transfer of assets from the Bridgemere Group. It explained that the deal has already been approved by the English Football League and ratified by its board.

Wolves said that the financial terms of the deal were confidential. It has been widely reported in the past few days that the deal is valued at some $59 million (GBP45 million).

Fosun is headed by Guo Guangchang, a billionaire who is sometimes described as “China’s Warren Buffet.” Guo hit the headlines late last year when he mysteriously disappeared for a few days and was later confirmed as helping Chinese authorities with investigations. No charges have been brought against Guo or Fosun as a result.

Under Guo, Fosun has diversified from chemicals and metals into pharmaceuticals and more recently into insurance, tourism, leisure and entertainment. In addition to its involvement in Studio 8, the group owns a major stake in Cirque du Soileil, a majority of Club Mediterranee, and smaller holdings in British travel firm Thomas Cook and South Korean talent agency SM Group. It recently bought French fashion brand Folli Follie.

In the past two years, Chinese companies have become major buyers of European sports assets, particularly soccer which is massively popular and in which the Chinese government is encouraging major growth. Among the recent deals Dalian Wanda bought a significant minority stake in Spain’s Atletico Madrid, China Media Capital bought a stake in England’s Manchester City and Baidu may be in the process of buying AC Milan.

The deals appear to be motivated by a combination of factors. These include acquiring rights for Chinese domestic streaming video services; transfers of talent, know-how and club championships from Europe to China; glamour and prestige; and the prospect of developing even second tier clubs into major brands and qualifying for international tournaments.

That dream appeared to come true last year for King Power, a duty free retailer from Thailand, which is the major backer of Leicester City. The unfashionable Leicester defied 1,000 to 1 odds to win the English Premier League. Leicester is now set to receive massively larger TV rights revenue as winning in England guarantees it a year of international matches in the pan-European Champions League.

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