Fans of the AC Milan soccer club at a contest between the team and Real Madrid in Shanghai. A Chinese consortium signed a preliminary deal for a 99.93 percent stake of AC Milan last August. (Photo provided to China Daily)
Chinese investors have spent 2.15 billion euros (.4 billion) on soccer clubs, making them the world's biggest buyer of teams.
Acquisitions of major stakes in clubs between 2014 and 2016, including Inter Milan in Italy, Reading in the United Kingdom, Slavia Prague in the Czech Republic, and Lyon in France, meant Chinese investors spent seven times more than entities from the United States, the next largest spender.
Research by London-based merger and acquisition specialist Thinking-Linking looked at investments by groups from 41 countries. The total spent by Chinese investors was larger than the combined sums of the next 40 countries.
The surge in investment followed President Xi Jinping's campaign to make China a major player in world soccer. In 2016, the National Development and Reform Commission, the country's top economic regulator, announced plan to become a world soccer superpower by 2050.
After China, the US spent 313 million euros on clubs including Mallorca in Spain. Singapore investors spent 256 million euros on clubs including Valencia in Spain. Iran investors spent 253 million euros on clubs including Everton in the UK. UK investors spent 182 million euros on clubs including Melbourne City in Australia.
Mark Dixon, of Thinking-Linking, said no country had ever gone from being a noninvestor to the largest investor in such a short period of time. China invested nothing in foreign clubs in 2014, 555 million euros in 2015, and 1.6 billion euros in 2016.
He said China had "just decided to do it - both at the government and company level. It's the result of the country's sheer ambition to become a major player in this field, globally, and to bring home the knowhow and kudos from each of these wins".
According to the research, Chinese investors focused on high-profile clubs, and sought controlling stakes.