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China group buys Swiss sports marketing firm

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China group buys Swiss sports marketing firm
Wang Jianlin is set to take Infront public. Photo: AFP
09:11 CET+01:00
China's Wanda Group has officially agreed to buy Infront — the Swiss sports marketing group headed by Fifa president Sepp Blatter's nephew and which holds some broadcasting rights to the World Cup — for €1.05 billion ($1.2 billion), the two firms said on Tuesday.

The Chinese property and entertainment conglomerate is looking to increase its influence in the global sports business, as Beijing bids for the 2022 Winter Olympics while rumours swirl that it could seek to host the 2026 football World Cup.
   
Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin said in a statement that Infront "is best positioned to actively support China in its bidding efforts for major sports events".
   
At a news conference following the announcement, he also cited Chinese President Xi Jinping's three-step plan for developing football in China: "To qualify for a World Cup, to host a World Cup and to win a World Cup."
   
Wang said he planned to take Infront public, but did not say when or where he would list the company.
   
The deal puts Wang — who recently bought 20 percent of Spanish football champions Atletico Madrid — and his company firmly in the front row of the global sports business.
   
Infront Sports and Media, based in Zug, Switzerland, and directed by Philippe Blatter, handles the media and marketing rights for many international sports events.
   
It is expected to rake in several hundred million dollars on the next two football World Cups — in Russia in 2018 and in Qatar in 2022 — alone.
   
The company, which counts some 600 employees across 12 countries, is also heavily present in all aspects of sports marketing, with sponsoring activities, including advertising around sports halls and stadiums.
   
Philippe Blatter said in the statement: "We are looking forward to jointly tackle a variety of major expansion projects with the aim to strengthen our leading position in the global sports market."
   
Infront also handles media finances for many football clubs, including AC Milan and Inter Milan, and counts the Berlin Marathon, China's professional basketball league and the European Handball Federation among its clients.

Controversy

Fifa president Sepp Blatter has in the past come under criticism after its decision to award Infront the sale of World Cup TV rights in a number of Asian countries for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.
   
The news of the Infront transaction came hours after a FIFA electoral committee approved Blatter and three rivals for a May election for his post at the top of football's global governing body.
   
Blatter has been in the post since 1998 and originally pledged not to seek a fifth term.
   
He will be 79 by the time of the vote but is a strong favourite to defeat Dutch federation president Michael van Praag; Jordanian Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, a FIFA vice-president; and Portuguese football great and former Ballon d'Or winner Luis Figo.
   
Victory would put Blatter in a strong position to influence the award of the 2026 tournament.
   
His reign has notably been tarnished by accusations of corruption stemming from the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, and the fallout over a report into the Qatar vote process.
   
A Fifa statement said all four candidates had passed "integrity checks" and so could be allowed into the election.
   
Wanda is buying Infront from venture capital firm Bridgepoint, which acquired it in 2011.
   
The Chinese firm is looking to diversify from the property business as the Chinese economy slows and real estate prices slump in many cities across the country.
   
Wang is a known to be a diehard football fan.

His Wanda Group greatly increased its profile in China after Wang bought a Dalian football club in 1994, renamed it after the firm, and transformed it into the strongest team in China.

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