Saints lure Lander to south coast revolution but Chinese deal hard on price

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By Paul Nicholson

November 3 – Saints could soon be marching in to a Chinese tune. The Premier League club are in exclusive negotiation with Lander Sports Development Co. of China though there seems to be some readjustment over valuation of the club.

Owned by Swiss national Katharina Liebherr, the club valuation was initially believed to be about £300 million but the Chinese are understood to have brought this number down to something closer to £200 million.

The reason for this is Chinese accounting treatment that puts player trading below the line, hence they will not include player valuation and sale potential in the overall club valuation. For Southampton, with its rich stream of academy players making it into the Premier League and a succession of cheaply acquired players who have been sold on at higher prices, not being able to include this trading makes a big dent in the valuation.

Liebherr is reported to have been in negotiation with the Chinese for several weeks. Southampton reported a profit of £12 million on sales of £113.7 million for the year ended June 30, 2015. With the new Premier League TV deal kicking in (worth £100 million to clubs) and another summer of successful player trading, the club’s turnover will likely double that figure – its progression in the Europa League will also impact on end year financial results. Profit will be similarly improved.

Saints have become a financial and management success story under the Liebherr family ownership. Having entered administration the club in 2009 had suffered two relegations from the Premier League and Championship to the third tier of English football. Their journey back to 8th place in the Premier League has been a trailblazing model for club owners. Tonight they play Internazionale in the Europa League. Inter were themselves bought by Chinese corporation Suning earlier this year.

Lander until recently was a business focused on the sale and management of property, before reorienting to sports. Investments, according to Bloomberg, include the creation in May of a sports-insurance joint venture with Du-Bang Property & Casualty Insurance Co. and investments to promote winter sports in China, which will host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Ownership of Southampton would be one of Lander’s biggest assets. The company announced a loss of 292.2 million yuan ($44.8 million) on sales of 2.6 billion yuan for the year ended September 30.

Saints would be the second Premier League club to have Chinese ownership after Guochuan Lai completed his £175 million acquisition of West Brom putting the club into the Yunyi Guokai (Shanghai) Sports Development Limited investment vehicle. Hull City are currently in negotiation of a £130 million sale to Greater China Professional Services Limited (GCPSL).

Perhaps the most significant Chinese investment in English football was the £400 million spent on acquiring 13% of Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi holding company City Football Group (CFG) by CMC (China Media Capital) in partnership with Chinese institutional investor CITIC Capital. This deal valued CFG at £3 billion.

Chinese investors have also bought Championship Clubs Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Birmingham City.

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