China offers 'extraordinary prize' for Europe's clubs: Inter boss

Wed Oct 5, 2016 12:50pm EDT
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By Mitch Phillips

LONDON (Reuters) - Chinese investment in European soccer is no short-term phenomenon and the opportunities it offers for the continent’s clubs are “extraordinary”, according to the CEO of Inter Milan, one of the latest big names to come under Chinese ownership.

Chinese corporation Suning Holdings bought a majority stake in Italy's Inter in June, the first Serie A club to come under Chinese ownership, following a series of investments and takeovers, particularly in England on the back of a presidential decree that encouraged widespread participation in the world’s most popular sport.

“There is definitely an environment that encourages investment in soccer now,” Inter CEO Michael Bolingbroke told the Leaders in Sport Business Summit on Wednesday.

“There is a big drive for health in China and soccer is one of the favorite sports of the president. China needs know-how, so they can run leagues as successfully as we do, while in return the opportunities for clubs are enormous.”

Suning, predominantly a white goods retailer, has a $40 billion turnover and Bolingbroke says that having a partner with such an established reach is key to clubs making real inroads.

Previously many European clubs have sometimes limited their bids to crack the world’s most populous country to the odd friendly and some replica shirt promotion but now they are taking things far more seriously.

Inter are about to open an office in the Nanjing, a city of over eight million people and HQ of Suning, and will employ 12 staff.

“We needed a Chinese partner to give us access to what is a vast market,” said Bolingbroke, who was at the heart of Manchester United's push into Asia as CEO of the English Premier League club he left to join Inter in 2014.   Continued...