China, Football FDI, and Soft Power

Dr. Scott MacDonald's picture

It is often said football or soccer is a universal language that everyone understands. It is estimated around 250 million people play football in 200 countries, making it the world’s most popular sport. China is no exception to this, with even President Xi Jinping, an avid fan, indicating he wants his country’s national team to be one of the best in Asia by 2030. Chinese companies are aware of the popularity of football, how it can be a positive addition to a firm’s menu of assets, and the attraction of owning a foreign football club. A number of top flight English and French teams already have some degree of foreign company ownership. One of the most recent foreign companies to take the plunge into purchasing a foreign football club is Chinese appliance retailer, Suning Commerce Group, which in early June agreed to pay $307 million for a 70 percent share of Italy’s Inter Milan (one of the country’s most prestigious clubs). Suning already is actively engaged in Chinese professional football, owning Jiangsu Suning Football Club, which recently has been active picking up players from English Premier League. Suning is hardly alone among China’s companies in expanding overseas – the Dalian Wanda Group in 2015 bought a 20 percent stake in Spain’s Atletico Madrid for euro 45 million and it is believed Chinese investors were part of a consortium of foreign investors that paid $400 million last December for a 13 percent stake in Manchester United. Well run football clubs, bringing people around the world closer emphasizes commonality over differences. If it is a winning club, the positive vibes that cross national borders are all that much for the better, especially at a time when front page news is focused on tensions over the South China Sea and China’s economy. Go football!