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by Shane Stokes
February 26, 2016
Photography by Cor Vos
Two and a half months after Italian publication Milano Finanza said that the Chinese Wanda Sports group was interested in buying cycling’s three Grand Tours, rumours have resurfaced that a major purchase could be in the works.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Dalian Wanda group – which owns Wanda Sports, and is itself owned by China’s richest man Wang Jianlin – is potentially interested in buying the Amaury Sport Organisation.
ASO owns the Tour de France and is a majority stakeholder in the Vuelta a España.
The Wall Street Journal states that people familiar with Wanda’s plans have attested to Jianlin’s interest in ASO.
It added that the deal isn’t advanced at this point and that discussion are at an early point.
Jianlin is China’s wealthiest person with an estimated fortune of almost $30 billion. In addition to many other business interests, he owns a 20% stake in Spain’s Atlético Madrid football team.
In early 2015 he purchased InFront Sports & Media for $1.2 billion. The company holds some of the marketing rights to FIFA’s World Cup.
It also represents the Ironman series, all seven Winter Olympic sports federations and several of the summer federations too.
Coincidentally – or perhaps not – InFront has been in the news this week, with the Velon group announcing it has reached a ten year partnership agreement with the company.
Velon is owned by 11 of the 18 WorldTour teams. Its CEO Graham Bartlett spoke at length to CyclingTips about the partnership, and said that streaming live data and live video from within the pro bunch was the biggest priority for InFront at this point in time.
Wanda is already involved in race organisation in cycling. It owns Ironman, which in January purchased Lagardère Sports’ endurance division.
The latter owns the Hamburg Cyclassics WorldTour race plus the Velothon Gran Fondo events.
Cyclingtips asked Bartlett about the previous rumours that InFront might make a major move into cycling race organisation, perhaps via the purchase of cycling’s Grand Tours.
“Velon’s relationship is with Infront Sport and Media,” he answered. “Of course, I think going forward there will be a lot of conversations around the wider group that Infront sits within. Part of that is Wanda Sports, of course. But it is too early to speak about wider-ranging opportunities that may come about.
“For the moment we are really focused on the core partnership with Infront.”
The Wall Street Journal states that Wanda’s plans to push into France are more advanced in other areas. It says it is in advanced talks to invest in a retail and cultural development known as Europa City near Paris.
Sources have said that this is a mixed-use development spanning nearly 200 acres, and that Wanda’s investment would likely go towards building a large amusement park there.
Jianlin has an estimated fortune of almost $30 billion. Last November he said that Wanda had major ambitions.
“Wanda has a very high expectation for the development and prospects of the sports industry.
“The significance of establishing Wanda Sports is not only to integrate Wanda’s interests in sports, but also to truly expand and strengthen Wanda’s businesses in the industry, while at the same time grasping the rapidly growing opportunities in the Chinese sports market.
“We want to truly impact the development of sport around the world.”
If the ASO talks do progress to the point of a sale being made, he will have gone a major way towards achieving that goal.