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Chinese investor targets stake in London's Brentford Football Club

By Angus McNeice in London | | Updated: 2017-04-27 00:21

Chinese-American hotelier Chien Lee is in discussions with Brentford FC owner Matthew Benham over the sale of a 50 percent stake in the club, according to UK media reports.

Located in West London, Brentford plays in the second tier of English soccer, the Football League Championship. The deal values the club at 60 million pounds ($76.9 million), according to the Financial Times.

Lee is the founder of 7 Days Inn, a budget hotel chain in mainland China that is now one of six brands under the Plateno Hotel Group which operates 2,000 hotels across 300 Chinese cities. He is also founder and chairman of private equity firm NewCity Capital.

Lee's interest in European soccer clubs is well documented. In the summer of 2016 Lee headed a consortium that bought an 80 percent stake in French top division side Nice. In November last year Lee ended his interest in Hull City FC after failing to reach an agreement with the owners over the sale of the Premier League club. In January this year, Middlesbrough leadership rejected a reported 50-million-pound offer from Lee for a 50 percent stake in the top division side.

Speaking with China Daily in an interview following the Nice sale, Lee expressed enthusiasm for bringing the French side's academy to train in China. As well as knowledge gathering and sporting exchanges to raise the level of the Chinese game, Lee said that ownership of a soccer club brings commercial benefits.

"The way forward is not just soccer," Lee said. "Nice is a very beautiful city, we can bring Chinese tourists to Nice, they can enjoy their tour and watch a soccer game. We are also looking to buy a hotel in Nice. Soccer is a good platform, so you can expand to other businesses."

Sitting in ninth in the league rankings at time of writing, Brentford ended a positive campaign last year, finishing ninth and retaining its place in the Championship for the second consecutive year. The club's management has been praised for an innovative, data-driven approach to team building. Hounslow Council recently approved Brentford's plans for a new 20,000-seater stadium located 13 km from Heathrow Airport. The stadium is scheduled for completion in 2019, and Brentford is likely to share it with neighboring rugby union team London Irish.

Simon Chadwick, professor of sports enterprise at Salford University, said that Lee's interest in the club makes sense from both sporting and commercial standpoints.

"Brentford is a very interesting club, located halfway between central London and Heathrow Airport," Chadwick said.

"Its location is highly strategic and would be likely to create a platform for building industrial connections from west through to central London. In addition, Brentford has established a reputation as being a highly innovative club, with a reputation for using data analytics as the basis both for building teams and pursuing its commercial goals. It is therefore a new kind of club, and one from which Chinese could potentially learn a great deal."

Contributing to Chinese President Xi Jinping's plan to establish China as a footballing superpower, Chinese investors have undergone a determined drive into English soccer in recent years. Premier League club West Bromwich Albion and Championship sides Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Birmingham City are all under Chinese ownership.

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