China's Wanda to Buy Stake in Spanish Soccer Club Atletico Madrid

Wang Jianlin, president of Wanda Group - 2005

The move would give China its first foothold in European soccer and allow the Madrid team to boost its profile in China.

Dalian Wanda Group, the Chinese real estate company headed by billionaire Wang Jianlin, is set to buy 20 percent of Spanish professional soccer team Atletico Madrid for an estimated $52 million (€45 million), according to Spanish news reports on Tuesday.

The deal, expected to be announced in Beijing on Wednesday, would give the Chinese powerhouse its first foothold in European sports and fits into a larger strategy of expanding beyond its traditional real estate focus and investing in other sectors, such as via its previous acquisition of the AMC Entertainment cinema chain in North America.

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Wanda will take its stake via a capital increase, while leading shareholders Enrique Cerezo, one of Spain’s biggest film producers, and Miguel Angel Gil will maintain control of the team.

The move follows similar steps by wealthy individuals and companies in the U.S. and Middle East to buy European soccer teams as brands, while allowing the European team to access a growing fan base abroad, in this case in China.

Spain’s defending league champion, Atletico is enjoying a strong run, which led it to the final of the UEFA Champions League last season. It sits behind Spanish heavyweights Real Madrid and FC Barcelona in the league table so far this season.

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Atletico also sits behind Real and Barcelona in terms of its budget, with its two rivals flush with funds from having negotiated their own TV rights deals. But Atletico hopes to benefit from upcoming league reform that will call for the league, known as La Liga, to sell broadcast rights collectively.

Last year, Wanda bought one of Madrid’s most emblematic buildings, the Torre Picasso, for $307 million (€265 million).