Wigan Athletic takeover

Wigan Athletic takeover, AFC open to offers, China’s Olympic-sized delegation and more

Here’s a summary of what you can find in my weekly China Digest for SportBusiness:

Hong Kong’s IEC in line for Wigan Athletic takeover
[UPDATE] As this column was going to press, news was filtering through that International Entertainment Corporation (IEC), controlled by Hong Kong’s well-known Cheng family, has entered into a two-week period of exclusivity (expiring Feb 14) to agree terms for a 100% takeover of English League One club Wigan Athletic.

Wigan, owned since 1995 by Dave Whelan, are currently looking like a good bet to return to the Championship, lying four points clear of 3rd place with two games in hand in their bid for one of the two automatic promotion spots. The club played in the Premier League for eight seasons from 2005 to 2013, winning the FA Cup just three days before being relegated to the Championship, so the potential is there given their recent history.

Hong Kong-listed IEC says its principal activities are “hotel operations, and leasing of properties for casino and ancillary leisure and entertainment operations.” It has been referred to in the media as a “Manila hotel-casino operator”, presumably because it owns the 32-floor luxury AG New World Manila Bay Hotel (acquiring a 51% stake in 2007 and the remaining 49% stake in 2016), but IEC also appears to  have had a fairly varied history. Talks have been going on since October last year, so it seems a good bet that a deal of some sort will be reached.

What the magic price might be, however, and how that club might fare under the new ownership is anyone’s guess. However, here are a couple of interesting stats about IEC’s directors:

  • New chairman Stanley Choi Chiu Fai is also a professional poker player.
  • Executive Director Zhang Yanmin is also COO at Goldenway Capital, the same Hong Kong firm that sponsored Swansea from 2013 to 2016.
AFC opens bidding process for WCQ, ACL rights

The Asian Football Confederation has opened its bidding process for the next two cycles of commercial rights, lasting from 2021-2028. While both agencies and broadcasters are being encouraged to submit bids for “separate and concurrent invitations to tender”, it’s possible that one agency will look to secure the pan-Asian commercial and broadcast rights package, before re-selling onto each territory individually.

The main attraction of the rights offering consists of the World Cup qualifying games in the Asian region ahead of the 2022 and 2026 World Cups, but also includes Asian Champions League (ACL) football and other AFC competitions such as the AFC Asian Cup and AFC U23 Championship. Currently, China Sports Media owns the rights for China until 2020, after the AFC terminated its contract with LeSports. State-run broadcaster CCTV airs the majority of major international and ACL matches, although some are also broadcast on regional channels. Bids can be submitted until March 29, at which stage the AFC will scrutinize the bids ahead of awarding the rights.

China’s largest ever Winter Olympic delegation

China has confirmed it is sending its largest ever Winter Olympic delegation to Pyeongchang, with a total of 186 athletes, coaches and officials making the trip. The athlete total of 82 is slightly down on the 91 who competed in Vancouver eight years – though that delegation included a 23-member women’s ice hockey team. But with China competing in a record 55 events in South Korea, more technical specialists are required, hence the record total number.

Sun Yuanfu, deputy director of the Winter Sports Administration Center of the General Administration of Sport of China, told Xinhua that, under normal circumstances, the Chinese would expect to see an improved performance given that the next games will be in Beijing, but said he didn’t “think this situation will play out” due to the parallel strengths of the Korean hosts, namely short track speed skating. Meanwhile, China will send Han Zheng, the #7 man on the seven-person Politburo Standing Committee (China’s top body), to attend this week’s opening ceremony. President Xi Jinping attended the opening in Sochi four years ago, but may be planning instead to attend the closing ceremony this time, when Pyeongchang will officially hand over to Beijing.

Also in this week’s China Digest:
  • Olympic sponsor and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba launches its first global advertising campaign.
  • Why China’s hopes of hosting the FIFA World Cup have just received a boost.
  • The end of Real Sociedad‘s Chinese sponsorship saga.
  • The NHL takes a page out of the NBA‘s China playbook.

To read about these stories in full and find other China-related links to topics including Juventus’ new Chinese partner, which sport Wolves owner Fosun is targeting next, the long-term strategy of Chien Lee (the Chinese-American investor involved in both Nice and Barnsley), and the challenges facing China’s winter sports push, click here.

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