AC Milan buyer said to seek funds to close $830 million deal

The Chinese consortium, known as Sino-Europe Sports, is seeking money from new partners to help meet its stated goal of completing the AC Milan deal by year-end


AC Milan has struggled in recent years, with the team a shadow of the squad that once regularly competed for football’s top prizes.
AC Milan has struggled in recent years, with the team a shadow of the squad that once regularly competed for football’s top prizes.

Hong Kong/Milan/Shanghai: The Chinese consortium attempting to buy the AC Milan football team has been hunting for more investors since it agreed on a deal with Silvio Berlusconi’s Fininvest SpA, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The little-known buyer group, led by businessman Li Yonghong, is sounding out interest from new investors, the people said. The consortium didn’t have all the financing in place when it agreed last month to purchase the Italian club for €740 million ($830 million) including debt, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are confidential.

Li’s group would also consider building a new stadium as part of its expansion plans, according to two of the people. The consortium has been telling potential partners they could earn outsized returns if AC Milan eventually lists on a Chinese stock exchange, where companies trade at a premium to Western markets, the people said.

The Chinese consortium, known as Sino-Europe Sports, is seeking money from new partners to help meet its stated goal of completing the deal by year-end. The late-stage fund-raising attempt highlights the dilemma faced by Western companies’ boards that must weigh the allure of higher prices offered by Chinese suitors with the complications that can arise if financing isn’t all in place.

“When a Chinese investor comes out of the woodwork and says they’ve got the money, there’s obviously massive risk for a seller,” Mark Dreyer, the Beijing-based founder of industry website China Sports Insider, said by phone Thursday.

State backing

Sino-Europe Sports “is in the final stage of the acquisition and has been providing project information to existing financing partners and other interested parties as a part of the closing process, which will be completed at the end of this year,” it said in an e-mailed statement. “The acquisition of the funds will be also fully in place at the same time.” A representative for Fininvest declined to comment.

The Chinese consortium has already paid a non-refundable deposit of €100 million in two tranches, Fininvest said last week. The purchase agreement also includes a requirement to provide another €350 million of funding to AC Milan over a three-year period.

Haixia Capital Management Co., an investment firm controlled by China’s government-owned State Development & Investment Corp., is joining Li in the purchase, according to the August deal announcement, which didn’t name any other companies. Fininvest said at the time that the Chinese buyer group also includes “companies active in the financial industry and others in industrial sectors,” without providing further details.

Former glory

In an earlier draft of the fund-raising materials, the Chinese investor group indicated the team’s value could multiply several times in the long term to reach €2.9 billion, rivaling top clubs like Real Madrid and Manchester United Plc, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg. The acquirer predicted its plan to revive the storied team would help annual revenue more than double to €500 million in five years. It plans to open up the Chinese market with licensing and endorsement deals, the documents show.

AC Milan has struggled in recent years, with the team a shadow of the squad that once regularly competed for football’s top prizes. Since Berlusconi took control of the team in 1986, Milan has won eight league titles and five European cups, marking the most-successful period in the club’s history.

Chinese investors have ramped up their spending on European football clubs since the beginning of last year. Should Li’s acquisition go through, Chinese investors would control both major Milan football teams, following Suning Holdings Group Co.’s June investment in crosstown rival Inter Milan. Bloomberg

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