The Ma the merrier for Guangzhou Evergrande

Jack Ma is no idiot – he presides over a company that is set to go public at an estimated value of $152 billion dollars – but Evergrande looks to have got the better of the deal that sees Alibaba take a 50% stake in Chinese Super League club Guangzhou Evergrande for $192 million.

The drinking continues: Evergrande's Xu Jiayin and Alibaba's Jack Ma
The drinking continues: Evergrande’s Xu Jiayin and Alibaba’s Jack Ma

The talk from Evergrande chairman  Xu Jiayin about the deal being proposed over a boozy meal on Monday and then concluded in a 15-minute phone call on Wednesday makes for a good story – as does Ma saying he had no idea how much a soccer club is worth and that it came “cheap” –  but it’s not true: the two had talks more than a year ago and Ma had already come close to buying a 49% stake in Hangzhou Greentown, his hometown club. So you would imagine he would have had a pretty good sense of the market by now.

Evergrande has spent a lot on the team in recent years – manager Marcello Lippi’s salary alone is thought to be about $14 million a year – and this will help them share that burden. Alibaba, meanwhile, has spent $12 billion on 25 investments since 2012 on various acquisitions, so this is a drop in the ocean by comparison.

This deal values the current ACL holders Guangzhou Evergrande as the 15th most valuable soccer franchise in the world, according to Forbes’ latest rankings. There’s a lot of guesswork involved in those calculations, but this feels high. There’s also no real reason why Ma needs to buy as much as 50% of the club, given that a stake half that size would still serve his diversification needs. But with Ma keen to splash the cash, Xu is all too happy to receive it – and the share price bump his company has also received.

Ma, though, knows what he is doing and if Evergrande is getting the better of the deal, Ma, too, is also getting what he wants.

Ma trying out his new goal celebration pose
Ma trying out his new goal celebration pose

As well as the ongoing diversification of Alibaba – which continues to move the firm away from its “China’s Amazon & eBay” tag – this is also a smart move for other reasons.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is a known soccer fan and while his love of the game can sometimes be overstated, investment in China’s football industry surely fits with the big man’s plans that China will one day qualify for, host and win a World Cup. Fans in Hangzhou, where Alibaba is headquartered, might be pissed that Ma has overlooked them, but Guangzhou Evergrande is the biggest sports franchise in China, and it’s understandable why Ma wants to align himself with a proven winner.

It also doesn’t hurt that Alibaba has given another boost to Chinese pride after “snubbing” the motherland by choosing to list in the US instead of at home. If this is what it takes to keep everyone sweet, then it will prove to be $192 million very well spent.

5 thoughts on “The Ma the merrier for Guangzhou Evergrande”

  1. Great news for Chinese football. Helps to have the $$ and celebrity coming into the game. Will all trickle down hopefully to the youth levels.

    1. That’s the hope, yes. Guangzhou has a pretty good youth system in place so hopefully that (and others) will yield fruit for the national team further down the line so the CSL no longer has to rely on foreign imports.

  2. This is certainly big news, but as I mentioned in a story I wrote on another site, this could possibly hurt the Chinese Super League as you have two of the countries richest men owning one team. They will have more financial clout to sign quality players leaving other teams to struggle.

    How many times can Evergrande win the league unless their is strong competition? Beijing Guoan, Guangzhou R&F and Guizhou Renhe have money, but nothing in comparison to Evergrande now.

    I’ve even proposed that the CSL should find solutions to make sure there is a level playing field so that the league remains competitive for all teams.

    It’s great news, but I do worry about the overall health of the CSL with this deal.

    I think it would have been best for Ma to buy a stake in Hangzhou Greentown and give Evergrande a run for their money. He could have even explored the opportunity of buying Aston Villa which is looking for a new owner.

    1. It’s a fair point about Guangzhou’s CSL dominance, but I like the quota rules the CSL has in place so at least you have to play a majority of Chinese players (unlike in England for example). Other teams will always find a way to compete eg Liverpool challenging Chelsea and Man City, and in Germany Borussia Dortmund actually has a (slightly) better record than Bayern Munich over the past four seasons, despite their respective resources. And La Liga this year was another great example.

      I think Lippi and his coaching staff should get a lot of credit for Evergrande’s success, not just the financial muscle behind the team. But all sporting dynasties always come to an end at some point…

      By the way, great to see China Sports Review back up and running on a more regular basis!

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