Sports / Soccer

Firm buys majority Spanish club stake

By EMMA GONZALEZ/QIU QUANLIN (China Daily) Updated: 2015-11-04 07:17

Rastar Group Co Ltd, a Shenzhen-listed toy and video game manufacturer, has become the first Chinese enterprise to own a majority stake in a Spanish soccer team, after securing a 56 percent participation in Real Club Deportivo Espanyol.

The Guangdong-based company announced it will pay 78 euros ($86) in cash for each share in the Catalan club, valuing the stake acquisition at 17.8 million euros.

Chen Yueping, assistant general manager of Rastar Group, said that the company's acquisition of a majority stake in the soccer team was based on its long-term strategy to develop into a large corporation with business ranging from toys and mobile games to sports.

"We are upgrading our business by investing more in emerging industries including mobile games and sports," Chen told China Daily. "We believe the purchase of the Spanish club would help expand our global presence in the long term."

Rastar, which has a stock market value of $3 billion, will invest an additional 45 million euros to help clear the club's debt and improve the performance of the team, according to Spanish newspaper El Pais.

The Catalan club, which is currently 10th in La Liga standings, has a net debt of 134 million euros, which prompted shareholders to find a strong buyer that could alleviate the club's economic burden.

"There is certainly more than an equity deal here", said Alexander Jarvis, chairman of Blackbridge Cross Borders, a company that mediates soccer merger and acquisition deals. "Overall, it is a good signal to the market and a strong political move. Having the majority of the voting rights gives Rastar options on the table for selling equity in the near future to partners in China."

Despite its poor financials, the Barcelona-based team was approached this year by several Chinese suitors interested in expanding their presence in the European market.

Earlier this year, Spanish media reported that Chinese travel conglomerate HNA Group had entered negotiations with Espanyol to purchase a 43 percent stake in the Catalan club for 10 million euros.

Hong Kong-listed investment group Fosum was also said to have participated in the bidding battle, with an intention of purchasing a 51 percent stake in the team.

Chinese companies are gradually increasing their influence in Spanish soccer through stake acquisitions and sponsorship agreements.

There are now 16 La Liga clubs directly linked to Chinese investment, according to Southern Metropolis Daily.

In January, real estate giant Wanda Group Co bought a 20 percent stake in leading Spanish club Atletico Madrid for 45 million euros, becoming the first Chinese company to invest in a major European soccer team.

"It is too early to say whether or not Chinese investment in European soccer will be a good thing or not," said Simon Chadwick, a professor of Sports Enterprise at the University of Salford in Manchester. "At one level, Chinese money may enable clubs to compete more effectively, but China's relative lack of experience in soccer club management may potentially be an obstacle to success."

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