The new Chinese owners of Birmingham City have vowed to take the English club “from strength to strength” after becoming the latest Asian group to invest in European football.
Trillion Trophy Asia, a group controlled by Hong Kong businessman Paul Suen, on Monday completed the acquisition of a controlling stake in the English club after a two-year exclusivity period.
Mr Suen, a serial investor in small listed companies in Hong Kong, now owns 50.6 per cent of the shares in Birmingham International Holdings, the club’s Hong Kong-listed parent group, following a complicated restructuring. The deal values the Championship club at £12.3m.
The deal brings to an end the club’s ownership by Carson Yeung, who was jailed for six years in March 2014 after being convicted of money laundering.
Shares in Birmingham International Holdings were suspended in 2014 following Mr Yeung’s financial scandal, but began trading again on Monday morning. The shares immediately fell as much as 45 per cent to HK$0.51, but the trading allowed Mr Suen to complete his takeover.
The deal is the latest sign of the Asian money that has flooded into the European football market in the past two years.
With China’s President Xi Jinping calling for a football revolution in the world’s most populous nation, Chinese investors have embarked on an unprecedented spending spree, splashing more than $2bn this year on top players, storied European clubs such as Inter Milan and sports rights agencies.
Chinese investors have been particularly busy in the British West Midlands, with four clubs in the region now controlled by Chinese owners. Dr Tony Xia bought Aston Villa for £76m in July, West Bromwich Albion was sold to Chinese investor Guochuan Lai in August and Chinese conglomerate Fosun International bought Wolverhampton Wanderers in July.
Birmingham City said the deal would allow the club to progress from what was “a very serious position”, adding in a statement: “A line can formally be drawn under the old regime and we can continue to plan ahead for a brighter Blues future, off the field and on it . . . It is the start of a fresh era.”
“I understand that the recent history of the Club has been difficult,” said Mr Suen. “But I am very positive that, now we have reached this landmark point, Birmingham City can go from strength to strength.”
Investors such as Mr Suen and Mr Xia are being enticed by the possibility of promotion to the Premier League, which generates more revenue than any other football league.
Seventeen of the 20 Premier League clubs made an operating profit during the 2014/2015 season, which totalled £546m ($794m) on revenues of £3.3bn, according to Deloitte.
The consultancy said that increased payments for the rights to Premier League games on TV would bolster club profits in future.
“This new era of sustained profitability is inspiring a new wave of investor interest, with clubs viewed as genuine business propositions capable of generating consistent profits rather than merely as prestigious ‘trophy assets’,” it said.