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Alibaba buys half stake in China's top football club

05 june 2014, 17:41
©Reuters/Chance Chan
©Reuters/Chance Chan

E-commerce giant Alibaba said Thursday it will pay $192 million for a 50 percent stake in China's top football club, in a frenzy of deal-making before a multi-billion dollar share offer in the United States, AFP reports.

Alibaba will pay 1.2 billion yuan ($192 million) for the stake in Asian champions Guangzhou Evergrande, with property developer and existing shareholder Evergrande Group holding the remainder, according to an Alibaba statement and company officials.

Evergrande, who won both the Chinese Super League and the AFC Champions League titles in 2013, said it had introduced Alibaba as a strategic investor.

"We're not only investing in Evergrande, we are investing in Chinese football," Alibaba founder Jack Ma told a news conference, adding the price was cheap.

Still, the flamboyant former English teacher admitted his ignorance about the game.

"In fact, I haven't been particularly interested in football and to be honest, I don't know much about it," he said, according to a video posted online.

The deal marked the latest in a series of high-profile acquisitions by Alibaba as it seeks to expand beyond its traditional base ahead of a planned US listing that could raise around $15 billion, putting it on par with Facebook's $16 billion IPO in 2012.

Alibaba operates China's most popular online shopping platform, Taobao, which is estimated to hold more than 90 percent of the online market for consumer-to-consumer transactions.

Last week, Alibaba acquired a 10.35 percent stake in Singapore Post, the city-state's main postal service, for $249 million as part of a strategic cooperation deal.

Prior to that, Alibaba and a private equity fund backed by Ma said in late April they will pay $1.22 billion for a stake in China's leading online video platform Youku Tudou.

The company has also made a foray into entertainment with the purchase of a majority stake in Hong Kong-listed ChinaVision Media Group in March.

Chinese sports fans welcomed the deal, which could potentially give the club access to Alibaba's deep pockets to further build the team.

"It's an alliance between giants," wrote one Weibo user under the name SAM-Chen.

Another user on Sina Weibo, the popular microblogging service which is China's equivalent of Twitter, said: "I can see a hopeful future for Chinese football."

Evergrande broke China's 23-year Asian title drought when they clinched the continental club championship last year, and are seeking to defend their AFC Champions League title under Italian manager Marcello Lippi.

Evergrande's Hong Kong-listed unit Evergrande Real Estate was up 2.78 percent on Thursday afternoon following the announcement.

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