Exclusive: Chinese buyers circle soccer 'super' agent Stellar Group

Fri May 20, 2016 11:26pm EDT
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By Adam Jourdan

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Four Chinese investor groups are locked in a more than $140 million bidding war for one of the world's most powerful soccer agencies, UK-based Stellar Group, a source said, a sign that China's appetite for sport is outgrowing trophy club investments.

According to documents reviewed by Reuters and a source with direct knowledge of the talks, the Chinese bidders include model car maker Rastar Group (300043.SZ: Quote), which last year bought a majority stake in Spanish soccer club Espanyol.

The potential investment would be music to the ears of avid soccer fan President Xi Jinping, who has an ambition to host and one day win the World Cup. He set out a plan 18 months ago to create a sport industry worth $850 billion by 2025.

"This is just the start of China's global sporting and football ambitions and we should expect more of the same over the next five years," said Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sports Enterprise at Salford University, Manchester.

Ultimately, Chinese sports businesses will emerge that own assets across and throughout the global sport industry, Chadwick said.

If a deal is done, Stellar Group, founded by British agent Jonathan Barnett, would be a major addition to China's fast-expanding roster of global football assets, which includes stakes in England's Manchester City, Spain's Atletico Madrid and a growing domestic league.

Earlier this week, Chinese entrepreneur Xia Jiantong bought struggling English club Aston Villa.

Barnett is one of football's so-called "super" agents, who broker multi-million dollar deals to trade players between clubs. Stellar Group was behind Wales international Gareth Bale's record-breaking 86 million pound ($125 million) move to Real Madrid in 2013.   Continued...

Leicester's Danny Drinkwater celebrates with the trophy after winning the Barclays Premier League.  Reuters / John Clifton/File Photo