December 20, 2016 4:00 pm JST

Wanda scores China's 1st international soccer tournament

Chile, Croatia, Iceland and China to play in Jan 2017

DAISUKE HARASHIMA, Nikkei staff writer

Dalian Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin speaks on Dec. 7 about the company's expansion into the soccer business.

DALIAN, China -- Dalian Wanda Group, a leading Chinese private property developer, will host an international soccer tournament in China in a bid to expand its sports business.

China's first official international championship, recognized by the sport's global governing body FIFA, will be held in January 2017 and involve four countries, according to Wanda. The company plans to increase the number of participants to eight in the future.

The China Cup tournament will be hosted by Wanda Sports Holding, the sports-business arm of Wanda. The 2017 games will be held in Nanning, the capital of the southern autonomous region of Guangxi, from Jan. 9-16. Chile, ranked fourth by FIFA, Croatia, 14th, Iceland, 21st, and China will play four games.

The games will be authorized by FIFA as the world's top-ranking "A" matches, Wanda said.

Wanda will continue to host the China Cup around January every year, inviting first-class national teams from Europe and the Americas. As the host country, China's national team, currently ranked 83rd in the world, will qualify for the tournament. 

"While China has many things to do to make its national team more competitive, the experience of playing in international A matches will be of great help," Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin said at a news conference earlier in December.

With the ownership rights to the tournament, Wanda seeks to expand its sports business through broadcasting rights, support money, sales of related goods and other incentives.

Wanda signed a top-level sponsor partnership contract through 2030 with FIFA in March when the global soccer governing body was mired in scandals, such as bribery over broadcasting rights. The establishment of relations with FIFA, including the sponsorship contract, has reportedly made it possible for Wanda to host the China Cup as an official international tournament.

New avenues

Wanda's core business is property development, such as condominiums and commercial complexes. But as China's economic slowdown has dented the real estate market, Wanda is shifting business priority to the services sector through aggressive mergers and acquisitions. 

The company has also entered the film industry, becoming the world's largest theater operator while also promoting the content side, including management of movie studios. 

Adding to its entertainment profile, Wanda is increasing investment in sports in a bid to create a new core operation. In 2015, the company acquired a 20% equity stake in Club Atletico de Madrid, a professional Spanish soccer club, and took over World Triathlon Corp., an American organizer and promoter of triathlons.

Wanda has further expanded its sports business portfolio this year through the sponsorship contract with FIFA and a partnership with the International Basketball Federation.

However, the aggressive business expansion strategy has sharply increased debt at Wanda. Interest-bearing debt alone at Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties, a leading property development subsidiary, amounted to 215 billion yuan ($30.9 billion) as of the end of June.

As Wanda does not disclose the amount of groupwide interest-bearing debt, some analysts question its financial health.

 

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