A Chinese retail giant just bought Italy’s Inter Milan soccer club for $300 million

Suning chairman Zhang Jindong talks football in Nanjing.
Suning chairman Zhang Jindong talks football in Nanjing.
Image: Reuters/Aly Song
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China’s retail giant Suning Holdings Group has agreed to pay €270 million ($307 million) for a 70% stake in Italian soccer club Inter Milan, the latest and biggest takeover of a European soccer team by Chinese investors.

Suning announced the deal with Inter Milan on Monday (June 6) afternoon at a joint press conference in Nanjing, where it’s headquartered. One of the largest privately owned retailers in China, the Shenzhen-listed company earned a net profit of around $130 million for the last fiscal year. E-commerce giant Alibaba owns a 20% stake in Suning.

Founded in 1908, Inter Milan is one of the most successful soccer clubs in Italian and world soccer history. But it’s also among the many Italian clubs that haven’t been well funded in recent years, in part due to Italy’s sluggish economy. Inter hasn’t won any titles since 2010, when it won a “triplete”—including two domestic titles and Europe’s top championship—under Jose Mourinho’s management.

Under the deal, current owner Erick Thohir, an Indonesian tycoon, will become the sole minority owner of the club and retain his position as the president, the club said in an announcement. Former president Massimo Moratti will exit the club; he owned Inter for 18 years before selling his majority stake to Thohir in 2013.

“We’ll make Inter great again, continuing the tradition and the success achieved under the Moratti family,” Suning chairman Zhang Jindong said at the press conference.

Suning has joined a group of Chinese enterprises that’s invested in both domestic and overseas soccer since Chinese president Xi Jinping declared his ambition to build his nation into a soccer superpower. About a year ago the retailer bought the local Jiangsu club, which has already attracted some of the world’s best players with its deep pockets. Suning also signed a three-year sponsorship deal with Spanish soccer giant FC Barcelona in 2014.

Chinese investors have bought stakes in European soccer clubs in the past, but Suning will become the first Chinese owner of a top-tier European team.

Inter’s city rival AC Milan is also in talks with a group of undisclosed Chinese investors regarding a takeover. It wouldn’t be surprising if the historical Milan derby becomes a China derby in the near future.