Alibaba snaps up 50% stake in China’s top football club

E-commerce giant agrees to pay $192m for stake in Asian championship side Guangzhou Evergrande


E-commerce giant Alibaba has agreed to buy half of China’s most popular soccer team, which won the Asia championship last year, as founder Jack Ma follows the paths of other tech billionaires getting into professional sports.

Alibaba will pay 1.2 billion yuan ($192 million) to Evergrande Real Estate Group for a 50 per cent stake in Guangzhou Evergrande Football Club, the companies announced today at a briefing attended by Mr Ma.

Evergrande shares rose to the highest in almost two months. The investment comes as China’s largest e-commerce company prepares for what could be the biggest initial public offering ever later this year.

Mr Ma will join the ranks of other tech executives running sports teams, including Mark Cuban of the National Basketball Association’s Dallas Mavericks, and former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer, who recently announced a $2 billion deal to buy the Los Angeles Clippers.

“The reason we will get into soccer is because at Alibaba our strategy is health and happiness,” Mr Ma said at the briefing in Guangzhou. “Investing in soccer is investing in happiness.” The deal comes after Alibaba recently announced deals in finance, online drug data services and entertainment. Alibaba said in March it would invest about $692 million in Intime Retail Group, owner of department stores and supermarkets, as the operator of the Taobao and Tmall marketplaces integrates online and offline shopping.

Alibaba bought a 10 per cent stake in Singapore Post to develop its logistics in Southeast Asia in May. “That one is the best team,” said Victoria Mio, a fund manager at Robeco Hong Kong , which has about $290 billion of assets under management. “It’s a good brand. If they can make a case for building a brand name and a customer base, or user base there, then there might be case for it.”

Evergrande plans to seek another 20 investors for the club as the next step, chairman Hui Ka Yan said.