China fund takes control of Spanish football TV rights giant

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A Chinese investment fund has taken control of Spanish media giant Mediapro, best known for owning television rights to the Spanish and Italian football leagues, as Chinese investors widen their global media and sports interests.

Orient Hontai Capital bought a 53.5 percent stake in Imagina, a holding company that includes Mediapro, which also produces films and series, and Globomedia, another media producer, for one billion euros ($1.2 billion).

The agreement gives Orient Hontai control over lucrative international television distribution rights for Spain’s La Liga, as well as the Italian league’s domestic TV rights.

In Spain, Mediapro has the rights to the Champions League and eight out of every 10 La Liga matches.

The group also has television distribution rights for the International Basketball Federation in Spain.

Apart from sports, it has produced films such as Midnight in Paris and other Woody Allen movies and television series including The Young Pope starring Jude Law.

– China invests in media –

“The agreement will give the group access to the emerging market in China,” Mediapro said in a statement.

Tatxo Benet, co-founder of the group, told AFP the aim “isn’t so much to bring our products to China, but to make content there.”

Stefan Szymanski, professor of sports management at the University of Michigan and co-author of the book “Soccernomics,” said this was “part of a continuing trend toward Chinese involvement in media”.

“As Chinese incomes grow there will be increased demand for entertainment content and Chinese companies will be well placed to present that content in such a way that it maximizes the appeal of the content to Chinese viewers.”

For Tony Ma, head of Orient Hontai, the deal “will not only allow us to introduce advanced audiovisual production technology in China but also open up new perspectives for exchange and cooperation between China, Spain and Latin America in the fields of content, culture, sports.”

The president and co-founder of Mediapro Jaume Roures is an influential media man in Spain.

He owns 12 percent of Mediapro, as does Benet.

British advertising giant WPP owns the remaining 22.5 percent.

Both Roures and Benet will remain at the head of the group.

– China foray into football –

Orient Hentai’s purchase comes as Chinese groups invest heavily in the football world.

European football, in particular, has a huge following in China, said Szymanski.

Under football fan president Xi Jinping, China has ambitions of hosting the World Cup and the country’s top companies and richest entrepreneurs have rushed to pick up stakes in foreign clubs and hire foreign players for huge wages.

In Spain, China’s Wanda bought a stake in Spain’s Atletico Madrid football club and had its new stadium named after the conglomerate. Heavily indebted, it has since had to sell it.

Another Chinese group, Rastar, has built up a 90 percent plus stake in Barcelona’s second side, Espanyol, since November 2015.

Chinese businessman Jiang Lizhang, meanwhile, is chairman of the board of directors for the club Granada CF and owns 98 percent of its shares.

Inter Milan and AC Milan are also under Chinese control

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