For much of its century-plus history, Manchester City soccer club has labored in the shadow of its more famous and successful neighbor, Manchester United. But after cash-rich Abu Dhabi investors spent around $300 million to take over City in 2008, it now regularly challenges United for titles in England’s Premier League. Today (Dec. 1) it scored another big victory, this time off the pitch: by selling a 13% stake in its parent company to Chinese investors, the club is now valued at a whopping $3 billion, roughly the same as its cross-town rivals.
The buyers of the $400-million minority stake in City Football Group, Manchester City’s holding company, include China Media Capital Holdings, a state-backed private equity firm, and Citic Bank Holdings, the investment branch of the domestic bank. As part of the deal, China Media Capital chairman Li Ruigang will take a seat on the company’s board. Often compared to Rupert Murdoch, Li has inked joint ventures with Warner Brothers and Dreamworks to co-produce Chinese films, in addition to owning assets across China’s radio and television industries.
The Manchester City deal is the latest in a string of bets that Chinese investors have made on professional soccer. In January, real estate tycoon Wang Jianlin bought 20% of Atlético Madrid for $52 million. In September, CEFC China Energy purchased a 60% stake in Slavia Prague, a soccer club in the Czech Republic. Last month, the Hong Kong branch of China’s Rastar group bought a 56% stake in Spain’s Espanyol.
And those are just the investments in foreign teams. At home, Chinese investors have shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars to take control of domestic soccer teams recently, as well billions of dollars for the rights to broadcast foreign league matches to Chinese fans.
In March of this year, Chinese president Xi Jinping issued a 50-point plan to turn the country into a “soccer powerhouse,” calling for schools to implement mandatory youth leagues and boosting investment in its national teams. Coincidentally, during his recent visit to the UK, Xi took a tour of Manchester City’s stadium, made famous by a selfie in which he appeared alongside City striker Sergio Aguero and British prime minister David Cameron: