NEWS
Tuesday October 4 2016
Mystery over Milan ownership

There is more confusion over Milan’s ownership, as a newspaper investigation uncovers inconsistencies with Sino-Europe Sports.

The Chinese consortium has been accused of using false documentation during the transaction, something vehemently denied by those involved.

Now Gazzetta dello Sport has sent journalists to China to try and uncover the truth about the prospective buyers of the Rossoneri.

The President of Sino-Europe Sports is Li Yonghong, who is said to be a billionaire and the owner of two companies listed on the Chinese stock exchange.

However, the newspaper notes that there “is no record” of their capitalisation, with his affairs “lost in a web of companies and figureheads”.

The Chinese investors are also reportedly seeking financing in Beijing, although it must be noted that €100m has already been paid, and they insist the deal will be closed before the end of the year.

James Tian, who co-ordinates foreign takeovers for China International Capital Corporation Limited, noted that transactions of this type in China are more usually carried-out by “companies or entrepreneurs who are already established”.

The Suning Group took over Inter, but He Wenyi of Peking University notes “the structure of the group which wants to buy Milan is not typical in China. Suning knew it all, they already had a team [Jiangsu Suning] and took over Inter to create synergy and value in China”.

The professor postulated that the takeover of the Diavolo is designed to “profit in the future, focusing on the value of the Milan brand in China”.

There has been speculation that the Chinese government may be involved, but the state is not usually involved in buying European clubs.

While the Beijing government did buy 13 per cent of Manchester City’s holding company through Citic Group, no links to the Milan deal were apparent, as the most well-known financier Haixa Capital is not state-run.

It therefore appears that the consortium will be made up of seven or eight investors, with no-one owning more than around 15 per cent.

Jilin Yongda Group, one of the companies linked with the takeover are reported to have set aside €40m to invest, equivalent to around 10 per cent of shares.

The investors have been attracted with the promise of high returns, with the business plan said to project a profit for the club in 2017-18 thanks to a surge in turnover.

This comes despite the fact that Milan have lost €181m in the last two financial years.

Outgoing President Silvio Berlusconi has obtained guarantees of investment in the future of the club, said to be worth around €350m.

However, Gazzetta is reporting that this will not come from shareholder investment, but rather from projected commercial income in China over the next three years.

It’s not clear if that’s likely, as despite the fact the Rossoneri are thought to have over 100m fans in China, many of them do not have only one team.

Surveys have shown that among Chinese fans of Manchester City, 95 per cent also support Manchester United, while 71 per cent like Liverpool, 68 per cent cheer for Chelsea and 64 per cent also profess loyalty to Arsenal.

Barcelona generate more than four times the commercial revenue of Milan, but throughout Asia they bring in only €15m in commercial revenue plus a few million in Nike royalties.

“Everyone knows Barcelona, but this reputation is hard to monetise commercially,” Barça’s commercial chief in China told Gazzetta.

“In China they tend to spend on Chinese companies.”

This is key to Sino-Europe’s strategy, as they hope the Diavolo will be seen as, partly, a Chinese club, rather than a foreign club looking to make money in the Far East.

However, a visit by Gazzetta to the consortium’s offices makes for ominous reading.

The journalists visited Changxing, where the company is registered to Tai Hu Capital Plaza, described as a building with “noisy and spacious offices”.

However, on the 15th floor where the Sino-Europe office lies, the door was closed and no-one answered the intercom.