Why Chinese investors are targeting Sunderland and other Premier League clubs

Ellis Short.
Ellis Short.
Have your say

A mystery Chinese consortium were, this week, linked with a takeover of Sunderland.

While the Echo understands Ellis Short has no immediate plans to sell Sunderland AFC to new owners, initial interest from an oversees buyer, said to be from China, has been rumoured.

The poor start to the season has seemingly put a potential buyer off a deal, which would have seen yet another group of Far Eastern investor throw their cash into the Premier League melting pot.

But why would Chinese money men be interested in the Premier League? And why Sunderland, in particular?

Here we take a look at just why the league and the club are such an inviting prospect.

Why are Chinese investors interested in the Premier League?

Without doubt, the biggest factor in buying into the Premier League, whether the investors are from China or elsewhere, is the money.

TV revenues, as well as a host of other income streams, have gone through the roof for clubs in recent years and investors can see a significant return, a traditional pitfall in buying a football club, if they manage the club's finances right.

There is also a certain sense of status in owning and investing in the English top flight, which is by far and away the most high-profile and well-watched league on the planet.

Sports business journalist Mark Dreyer, who currently lives and works in China, spoke with skysports.com recently to explain just why UK football has become such an inviting prospect.

He said: "The government has been actively looking for new areas to drive the economy and the sports sector is one that has been actively targeted.

"Chinese president - and football fan - Xi Jinping has announced a long-term vision to overhaul the football industry from top to bottom.

"Chinese companies are being encouraged to become more global in their outlook and diversify their businesses to become more competitive both domestically and overseas.

"Many Chinese companies have been piling into football investment, both at home and abroad, not only because they want to be a part of China's next growth story, but because they also want to maintain good government relations."

How big is football in China?

Put simply, football is a massive deal in China.

With a captive audience of some 1.4 billion people and the second biggest economy on the planet, it is no wonder football is a growing market over there.

British clubs for almost decades or so now have been making regular pilgrimages, often on the demand of owners keen to tap into the Far East market, to play pre-season, games, tournaments and exhibitions across Asia, often the displeasure of many a manager and player.

But in recent years, the country's own league - the Chinese Super League - has been hitting the headlines for a number of reasons.

Several top Chinese clubs have spent tens of millions of dollars importing top talent from many of Europe's best leagues.

The most high profile move came from Guangzhou Evergrande who in the summer paid $45.8 million to sign Atletico Madrid striker Jackson Martinez -- a record transfer for the CSL.

The growth has not just been pushed at club level, though. The message comes from the very top.

China has recently unveiled a blueprint to transform the country into a "soccer powerhouse", with the aim of challenging the world's very best by 2050.

Unveiled by Beijing's top economic planning body - National Development and Reform Commission's vision - the plan intends to create 20,000 soccer schools and 70,000 pitches by 2020. More than 30 million school age children will be encouraged to play football regularly.

And the nation itself has committed to the game, domestically, at least, for the long haul. It sounds like China are keen to create their own 'football factory' at home, while rich businessmen will continue to be encouraged to invest abroad.

What about the World Cup?

China aim to stage a World Cup in 2030.

With Qatar being handed the rights in 2022, it is unlikely another Asian nation will get the one after, hence the 2030 date.

As hosts the nation would automatically qualify, which is something they have done just once.

Back in 2002 their campaign ended without a single point or even a goal.

Which Premier League clubs are Chinese owned?

Just one Premier League club, as things stand is under Chinese ownership.

West Brom are owned by successful Far Eastern investor Guochuan Lai, whose reported wealth tops the £1billion mark.

The Midlands is currently a hotbed for Chinese investment, with Wolverhampton Wanderers, Birmingham City and Aston Villa all having nationals in the boardroom.

Villa were recently bought by out-spoken, multi-millionaire Tony Xia of the Recon Group, whose wealth is said to be around £900million.

Wolves were bought at the start of the season by an investment arm named Fosun International. The Molineux owners are now the second richest in the Championship, just behind controversial Newcastle United owner and Sports Direct chief Mike Ashley.

While 11% of Birmingham is owned by Liu Xingcheng, whose wealth is unknown.

Why are Sunderland a target?

Despite their struggles Sunderland are still a massive club.

The Black Cats are still pull in one of the biggest average home crowds in Europe, despite sitting second bottom of the Premier League table with just two points.

In terms of infrastructure Sunderland are also in prime position.

While it has taken investors at other more high profile clubs years to bring plans for extended stadia and training facilities to fruition, Sunderland already have all of that in place.

And if you add in the pull of a remarkably loyal support, still with room to grow, you can see why investors are keen to cast their eye.

While there are no immediate plans for Sunderland to be sold by current owner and American billionaire Ellis Short, the top flight basement boys - rumoured to be valued at around £150 million - could be seen as an easy target.

Given that there is supporter unrest at a perceived lack of investment by Short, despite Sunderland splashing out £27.12million in the summer transfer market - the 10th highest net spend, foreign investors could see this as the perfect time to step in at the Stadium of Light, provided Premier League status is secured again this season.