Chinese tycoon adds Ironman to sports empire

Billionaire Wang Jianlin said his company is likely to buy another sports firm before the end of the year.
Billionaire Wang Jianlin said his company is likely to buy another sports firm before the end of the year.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

With $910m buy, Dalian Wanda Group is now the world's largest sports operating company

BEIJING • Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin is expanding his sports empire, adding the organiser of Ironman triathlons to holdings that already include soccer team Atletico Madrid.

His holding company, Dalian Wanda Group, agreed to buy World Triathlon Corp for US$650 million (S$910 million), becoming the owner of the world's largest sports operating company, according to an announcement yesterday.

The purchase, from US fund Providence Equity Partners, adds to Mr Wang's sports-related holdings that include marketing company Infront Sports and Media AG, besides a 20 per cent stake in Spanish Atletico Madrid. China's sports industry has "huge room for growth" and Wanda will buy "a few" companies in the second half of this year to tap the potential, Mr Wang said last month.

Wanda, parent of Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties, China's biggest commercial real estate developer, aims for a revenue of US$100 billion by 2020 from US$40 billion last year. Ironman will bring in US$183 million this year, following four years' compound growth of 21 per cent, Providence said.

"Wanda's next task is to widely market this global extreme endurance sport in China," Mr Wang said at a briefing in Beijing. He added, without elaborating, that the group would likely buy another sports company before the end of the year.

SUSTAINABLE TARGETS

China needs to drop the fantasy of keeping a high growth rate of 7 or 8 per cent and just accept 6, 7 or even 5 per cent.

MR WANG JIANLIN, on what China must do in the aftermath of the stock market crash

Ironman races comprise a 3.9km swim, a 180km bicycle ride and a 42.2km run, completed in less than 17 hours. Wanda plans to hold as many as three races in China next year and increase Chinese participants to 200,000 over the next decade from 100.

Ironman chief executive Andrew Messick said it hosts 200 events in 27 countries and has nearly 250,000 registered athletes.

"Wanda Group is a global-minded organisation that shares our desire for excellence and continued growth, particularly in Asia," Mr Messick said.

World Triathlon Corp's entire management has signed a long-term contract to continue following the acquisition, Wanda said.

The seller, Providence, will make a return of four times on its Ironman investment, said a person familiar with the matter who did not want to be named.

Mr Wang had recently overtook Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka Shing as Asia's richest man, according to a ranking released last week by the Hurun Report. The report estimated Mr Wang was worth US$42.6 billion.

The billionaire property developer was in the news this week after reports said he lost US$13 billion (S$18 billion) on paper in the stock market tumble in China.

In a bold comment on the crash, Mr Wang said yesterday the Chinese government needs to give up any "fantasy" of maintaining high economic growth rates.

Speaking after his company announced it had bought World Triathlon Corp, China's richest man added that the key was whether economic growth is"sustainable and safe".

"China's economy needs to transform from relying on investment and exports to consumption. That's a painful process. If the transformation doesn't happen now, it would be even more painful in the future," Mr Wang said.

"China needs to drop the fantasy of keeping a high growth rate of 7 or 8 per cent and just accept 6, 7 or even 5 per cent," he added.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2015, with the headline 'Chinese tycoon adds Ironman to sports empire'. Print Edition | Subscribe