(Yicai Global) June 6 -- After two months of speculation, 108-year-old Inter Milan Football Club is welcoming its first Chinese majority shareholder. Suning Holdings Group said it is buying a 70 percent stake in the Serie A club for EUR270 million (USD306 million), becoming the first Chinese company to take control of a major European soccer club.
"This new partnership with Suning Holdings Group is a game changer for Inter Milan," Inter President Erick Thohir said. "Over the past two and a half years we have been building on the existing sold base at Club and this new partnership will enable us to take the next step in the project and return Inter Milan to its rightful place in world club football."
At the end of last year, Chinese investments in overseas soccer teams started to attract widespread attention. In December, Manchester City FC's owners announced a GBP265 million (USD383 million) investment from a Chinese consortium. President Xi Jinping, who is known to be a keen soccer fan, visited the Premier League football club during a four-day state visit to the UK last October. China's government is promoting the beautiful game at home, releasing plans in April to turn the country into a world-class soccer nation by 2050. Suning Chairman Zhang Jindong is also a football fan. He bought domestic team Jiangsu Sainty not long ago.
"The acquisition of Inter Milan is part of Suning's strategy in the development of the sports industry and driving our campaign in the health and lifestyle consumer market," Mr. Zhang said.
Appliances retailer Suning currently operates six main business units including e-commerce, real estate, investments, financial holdings, cultural and creative businesses and sports. The Nanjing-based company has split off sports as a separate business unit in expectation of future potential.
Speculation about a deal first emerged online in about April, or even earlier. Back then, a senior Suning official said most news spread via the Internet was not unfounded. Italian sports media such as Corriere dello Sport and Sky Sports published reports about the deal on June 1.
"In my opinion, cooperation between Suning and Inter Milan is very important, as it can connect China with one of the most important clubs in Italy," said Mr. Cai Zhenhua, president of the Chinese Football Association, who is currently on a visit to the Italian European Cup 2016 training base at Coverciano.
Starting from the 2005 to 2006 season, Inter Milan won five consecutive championships of the Italian Football League and clinched the European Cup title in 2010, marking the start of the second 'Grande Inter' era. But, the club went into a dormant period afterward. Due to financial constraints, former Inter Milan President Massimo Moratti bit the bullet and sold most of the shares to Indonesian businessman Mr. Erick Thohir, after spending heavily on the team for the previous 20 years. Clearly, the Indonesian investor is under great pressure as well.
Inter Milan urgently needs to secure new players and adjust its financial structure to take advantage of the upcoming European Cup season. Suning recently spent EUR50 million (USD56.8 million) on the transfer of Mr. Alex Teixeira.
Suning's investment should give a huge boost to Inter Milan before the transfer market opens for a new season in September.