China’s soccer business scores with transfers

Soccer is seen as an investment opportunity as the stock market slumps

Transfer deadline day may have been fairly tame in England this year – Pep Guardiola's bombshell move to Manchester City aside – but in China, the business of soccer is booming as the government cranks up the pressure on clubs to up their game and boost the reputation of the country.

With the stock market in the doldrums and the property market in a slump, the country’s tycoons are looking for vehicles to help boost their bottom line – and soccer clubs are increasingly targeted as an investment opportunity.

The move into entertainment and leisure areas such as soccer and movies is in line with the government’s stated aim of boosting the consumer market and diversifying out of old-school manufacturing industries.

And it doesn't hurt that President Xi Jinping has made the rejuvenation of soccer a part of the "Chinese dream".


The Chinese Super League is quickly becoming the biggest soccer market outside of the Premiership and La Liga.

According to the transfermarkt website, Chinese clubs in the top two divisions spent €201.9 million on players during the transfer window, up 60 per cent on the same period last year; the latest signing was 300 million yuan (€42 million) for Colombia and Atletico Madrid striker Jackson Martinez to Guangzhou.

Other massive moves include a Chinese Super League record €28 million for Chelsea's Brazilian midfielder Ramires (inset) to join Jiangsu Suning, Hebei China Fortune paid €18 million for Ivorian striker Gervinho from AS Roma and Shanghai Shenhua bought Inter Milan's Colombian international Fredy Guarin for €13 million.

Big name managers such as Phil Scolari, Marcello Lippi and Sven-Goran Eriksson are also in China managing clubs.

"Given that the transfer market does not close in China until February 26th, it's very possible that the English Premier League might face a fight for its top position in the spending list," Transfermarkt wrote in a commentary.

Crucially, these are not players who are at the end of the careers, but rather players at the top of their game. There are signs that the commercial aspect of the game in China is becoming more sophisticated and raising standards along with it.

Develop the game

Wang Jianlin

, China’s richest man, has said that when he retires, he intends to devote his time to help develop the beautiful game in China, and he has bought

Infront Sports



as well as a stake in Spanish club Atletico Madrid.

The aim of this investment is to help promote the development of "China's Future Star Programme" in Spain and, at the same time, would support the overall expansion of soccer in China.

As a canny investor, Wang is also keen on the returns from a network of franchise shops around the country.

E-commerce giant Alibaba chief Jack Ma was the focus of attention during November's Asian Champions League final, when the club in which he has a 40 per cent stake, Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao, won the competition.

Evergrande is a stock market-listed company and it is keen to expand fast and woo audiences in Guangzhou. It regularly sells 40,000 tickets a match, and the TV viewership for its AFC Champions League win was 83 million.

Its soccer academy, which has a deal with Spanish giant Real Madrid, coaches 2,400 children each year.

It's not all plain sailing, of course. Guangzhou's jerseys were adorned with the name of co-owner Evergrande Life, the insurance unit of Evergrande, rather than the long-term sponsors Dongfeng Nissan, the Chinese unit of the Japanese car maker.