As Inter deal nears, Chinese retail giant Suning eyes football empire


People walk past a Suning store, one of the largest home appliance retailers in China, in Hong Kong August 26, 2013. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Chinese retail giant Suning Commerce Group Co Ltd, set to tie up a deal for Italian football club Inter Milan, is already eying bigger ambitions: controlling a global sports empire stretching from football clubs to online broadcasting.

Suning and Inter Milan are due to make an announcement in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing on Monday, widely expected to confirm that Suning will buy a majority stake in the Italian football club.

Amid a wider push by China to increase its standing in the game, Suning's deal for the 2010 European champions is just the start.

The Chinese electronics retailer is seeking deals to help create a global sporting "ecosystem", according to a Suning Sports Group document seen by Reuters.

This network would include club ownership, sports media rights, player agencies, training institutions, broadcast platforms, content production and sports-related e-commerce, the document shows.

"Suning Sports aims, through strategic expansion and acquisitions, to establish a sporting ecosystem along the whole supply chain," it said in a roughly 20-page presentation outlining its ambitions for the sports business.

A majority stake in Inter Milan would be a big step towards this. It would be a watershed moment for China's investment in the game, making Suning the first mainland Chinese business to control a major European football power.

Suning will also look to become a leader globally in sports media and online, including "creating high-quality sports content" and "establishing a professional broadcast platform", it said in the presentation.

Suning declined to comment.

NATIONAL CHAMPION

Suning, which has annual revenues topping $20 billion, already has some blocks in place: it owns local club Jiangsu Suning and has splashed millions of dollars on players such as Brazil's Alex Teixeira and former Chelsea midfielder Ramires.

It also has ties with Spanish champions FC Barcelona, England's Liverpool FC and a stake in Chinese online content platform PPTV, with sporting content including the Chinese Super League as well as Euro 2016 starting later this month.

The drive tallies with Chinese President Xi Jinping's own goals, which includes ambitious plan to create a domestic sports industry worth $850 billion by 2025. Xi is a keen football fan and wants China to one day host, and win, the World Cup.

"Suning is definitely now seen as a bit of a national champion, on par with the likes of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Dalian Wanda," said Mark Dreyer, Beijing-based founder of sports information website China Sports Insider.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see more investments into the game from Suning in the near future, as it looks to piece together assets in various key areas of the business."

Chinese investors already have minority stakes in England's Manchester City, Spain's Atletico Madrid and New York City FC, while smaller Spanish club Espanyol and England's Aston Villa are Chinese-owned. Inter's city rival AC Milan is also in talks to sell a majority stake to a group of Chinese investors.

Reuters reported last week that Suning's deal for Inter was imminent and that the firm was amongst the front-runners to buy UK-based Stellar Group, one of the world's leading football agencies.

Inter is currently controlled by Indonesian tycoon Erick Thohir with former owner Massimo Moratti owning just under 30 percent. Italian media have reported Suning will buy 70 percent of the club, valuing it at 750 million euros (587.66 million pounds).

(Editing by Lincoln Feast)

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