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Chinese billionaire Wang to buy stake in Atletico Madrid

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Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin is buying a 20 per cent stake in Spain's champion soccer club Atletico Madrid through Dalian Wanda Group as the operator of malls and cinemas hedges against China's cooling property market.

[BEIJING] Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin is buying a 20 per cent stake in Spain's champion soccer club Atletico Madrid through Dalian Wanda Group as the operator of malls and cinemas hedges against China's cooling property market.

The group will pay 45 million euros (S$70 million) for the stake, marking the first investment by a Chinese company in a top European soccer club, Wanda said in a statement announcing the deal Thursday in Beijing, where it's based. Wang, China's second-richest man, is Wanda's chairman and founder.

The closely held group, which spun off Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties Co. in December through a Hong Kong initial public offering, has led Chinese developers including China Vanke Co. and Greenland Group on an overseas buying spree, with plans to buy a stake in film studio Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. and build properties in Beverly Hills.

"The purchase of a renowned European brand will boost Wanda's brand recognition," Liu Yuan, Shanghai-based research director for Centaline Group, China's biggest property agency, said in a phone interview before the announcement. "Also, Dalian Wanda is trying to reduce risks in the increasingly competitive domestic commercial real estate market by tapping into other industries and countries."

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Atletico has turned to investors in countries including Azerbaijan, the US and Kazakhstan to help finance the signing of new players as it struggled with payments to suppliers amid restricted lending from Spanish banks. The club has captured the top spot in Spain's football league 10 times, including the most recent season ended last year.

Wanda and Atletico will each invest 15 million euros to build a training center for young soccer players in Madrid and will open three soccer schools in China, according to the statement. The soccer club will also play matches in China each year after the deal.

China's housing market has ended its period of rapid growth after expanding at an "unhealthy, crazy" rate over the past few years, Wang said in an interview last month. His US$24.6 billion fortune is behind only Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma's in China, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

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