Own goal? China's richest man Wang Jianlin fires warning on football splurge

China's richest man, Wang Jianlin warns that China Inc's football splurge could leave investors burnt and out of pocket.
China's richest man, Wang Jianlin warns that China Inc's football splurge could leave investors burnt and out of pocket.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China Inc's record burst of investment in global football could leave investors burnt and out of pocket, says China's richest man, Wang Jianlin, in the highest profile warning yet on a US$4 billion (S$5.41 billion) splurge since 2015 that has stunned European football.

The chairman of the sprawling Dalian Wanda Group is himself a major sports investor, sponsoring the Chinese league and last year taking stakes in leading Spanish club Atletico Madrid and Swiss sports marketing firm Infront Sports & Media AG.

But for Wang, owning a team is about influence - not profit, which he sees as easier to achieve through rights deals or owning competitions.

A score of smaller Chinese players have since followed Wang into the European football arena, encouraged by official enthusiasm for the game.

Part of the lure is mammoth TV deals as global viewers pay up to watch live sport: the English Premier League - the world's richest - will see £8 billion (S$14.30 billion) coming in over three years.

Not everyone along the scale, however, will see enough of that money to make a decent return, Wang warned.

"It can give you influence, but it won't make you money. Every year you're burning through cash - that is certain," Wang told Reuters in an exclusive interview in Beijing.

"It's eye-catching, it attracts interest, but it's hard to make money," he said of the recent spate of deals.