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Chinese billionaire plotting UEFA Champions League breakaway

Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid (centre) lifts the UEFA Champions League trophy after the final against Atletico Madrid on May 28 2016 (credit: Getty Images)
China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, is backing plans to launch a rival competition that would serve as a breakaway from the UEFA Champions League.

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Dalian Wanda Group, the property and entertainment conglomerate run by billionaire Wang, claims to be in talks with European football’s power brokers to create an alternative for the top clubs to the Champions League.

Wanda is promising more places for the sport’s heavyweight teams and a steep increase in broadcasting rights revenues.

The ambitious proposals are part of China’s designs on conquering the world’s most popular sport both on and off the pitch.

Chinese groups have spent billions acquiring stakes in European football clubs and sports companies in recent years, with AC Milan and Inter Milan the latest acquisitions.

The buying spree was sparked by China’s President, Xi Jinping, whose stated desire is to transform football-mad China into a “great sports nation” capable of winning the World Cup.

Marco Bogarelli, strategic director of Wanda Sports Holding, the privately-owned Chinese group’s sports arm, said its aim was to gain participation from the national leagues in Europe’s ‘big five’ TV markets — England, Spain, Italy, France and Germany — that contribute the majority of Champions League broadcasting revenues.

Bogarelli said:
“Many talented players are now deciding to play in Asia instead of Europe. One day, Asia will have the money for Cristiano Ronaldo to play there. It is in the common interest for these five leagues to have football growing in Europe (in order to) maintain its leadership.”

He claimed talks have begun with Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A, with plans to initiate discussions with England’s Premier League, Germany’s Bundesliga and France’s Ligue 1 after the Euro 2016 championship, the final of which takes place on Sunday.

Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin (left) (Getty Images)
Wanda also hopes to win backing from UEFA, European football’s governing body, but is willing to propose a separate competition should it object to the plans.

Bogarelli added:
“There has to be a future that has more freedom, based on the needs of the clubs and the leagues where they can make a choice.”

UEFA is already under pressure to enact major changes to the existing Champions League as clubs push to secure greater financial rewards via more matches against the biggest teams.

It was reported that among the clubs particularly interested in the proposals are Real Madrid, the 2015-16 Champions League winners.

Wanda’s proposal is to create a single competition, instead of the Champions League and Europa League, that would feature more than 32 clubs but fewer than 64. It would guarantee at least six places for each of the big five leagues.

Smaller nations would have fewer places overall in any new European competition.

Wanda, which owns a 20% stake in Atletico Madrid, said its proposed competition would be more attractive to broadcasters, creating more high-profile matches.

Their proposals are for matches to be played over two-week rounds on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights. This would create six ‘prime time’ slots for broadcasters, with each match night featuring a club from England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France in the tournament’s early stages.

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Chinese billionaire plotting UEFA Champions League breakaway

China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, is backing plans to launch a rival competition that would serve as a breakaway from the UEFA Champions League.

Read more »