ROME — Chinese Internet giants are in advanced negotiations to buy two top-league Italian soccer teams, including Silvio Berlusconi’s A.C. Milan. It is the latest indication they are now targeting sports, having muscled their way into global film and TV content.
U.S.-based Galatioto Sports Partners has confirmed they are brokering a deal for a possible Milan sale to an unspecified Chinese group which Berlusconi-owned Il Giornale has said could be Baidu, China’s leading search engine company, founded and owned by billionaire Robin Li. Baidu earlier this month launched a funding round for its second streaming platform, Baidu Video, which will focus on movies and premium TV content. Baidu already owns most of leading online firm iQIYI.
Silvio Berlusconi, who has proudly owned Milan for 30 years, is seeking a buyer because the team is besieged by hundreds of millions of Euros debt. But the TV-tycoon-turned politician is also trying to keep some control, according to Italian press reports.
Meanwhile Chinese electronics retailer Suning Commerce Group, has announced that it is in talks to buy Inter Milan, another top league Italian soccer squad, also based in Milan. “The two parts are exploring in-depth the possibility of an ample partnership in the field of soccer and the development of soccer in China,” they said in a joint statement. Suning is a major investor in China’s PPTV video-streaming service which signed a multi-year licensing deal for exclusive Chinese streaming rights to CBS and Showtime series last year.
Chinese president Xi Jinping has been pushing to turn China into a soccer powerhouse, announcing plans this year to boost the sport, building more fields, and possibly making it mandatory in schools.
If either of these deals goes through, they would mark China’s second major purchase in European soccer with in a few months, after another group led by China Media Capital bought a $400 million stake in the Manchester City Football Club late last year. CMC is one of the biggest Chinese investors in Hollywood, most recently taking a minority stake in Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment last month.
Dalian Wanda Group, another big Hollywood investor, last year took a 20% stake in Spanish soccer club Atletico Madrid in a deal hailed as the first major mainland Chinese investment in European sports. Wanda went on to purchase Switzerland-based sports marketing agency Infront which produces World Cup broadcasts for FIFA, soccer’s governing body. More recently Wanda in March struck a partnership with FIFA which gives it the highest level of sponsorship, and marketing rights to all FIFA matches including the next four World Cup tournaments.
Patrick Frater in Hong Kong contributed to this report.