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China's Suning to buy 69% stake in Inter Milan

Chinese retail giant to score majority stake in Inter Milan

Chinese retail giant Suning Commerce Group has agreed to buy a 68.55 percent stake in Italian soccer club Inter Milan, a source familiar with the matter said on Monday.

Former Inter Milan president Massimo Moratti will sell off his entire stake in the club, which amounts to just under 30 percent, while current majority owner Erick Thohir will cut his stake to 31 percent and stay on as president, the source said.

Suning and Inter Milan are due to make an announcement in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing on Monday, widely expected to confirm that Suning will buy a majority stake in the Italian club.

A call to the club's office in Milan was unanswered.

With President Xi Jinping an avid supporter of the game, Suning's deal to take control of the 2010 European soccer champions is the latest step in a plan to create a global sports empire stretching from soccer clubs to online broadcasting.

The Chinese electronics retailer is seeking deals to help create a global sporting "ecosystem", according to a Suning Sports Group document seen by Reuters.

This network would include club ownership, sports media rights, player agencies, training institutions, broadcast platforms, content production and sports-related e-commerce, the document shows.

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"Suning Sports aims, through strategic expansion and acquisitions, to establish a sporting ecosystem along the whole supply chain," it said in a roughly 20-page presentation outlining its ambitions for the sports business.

A majority stake in Inter Milan would be a big step towards this. It would be a watershed moment for China's investment in the game, making Suning the first mainland Chinese business to control a major European soccer power.

Suning will also look to become a leader globally in sports media and online, including "creating high-quality sports content" and "establishing a professional broadcast platform", it said in the presentation.

Suning declined to comment.

Suning, which has annual revenues topping $20 billion, already has some blocks in place: it owns local club Jiangsu Suning and has splashed millions of dollars on players such as Brazil's Alex Teixeira and former Chelsea midfielder Ramires.

It also has ties with Spanish champions FC Barcelona, England's Liverpool FC and a stake in Chinese online content platform PPTV, with sporting content including the Chinese Super League as well as Euro 2016 starting later this month.

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The drive tallies with Chinese President Xi Jinping's own goals, which includes ambitious plan to create a domestic sports industry worth $850 billion by 2025. Xi is a keen soccer fan and wants China to one day host, and win, the World Cup.

"Suning is definitely now seen as a bit of a national champion, on par with the likes of Alibaba Group Holdings and Dalian Wanda," said Mark Dreyer, Beijing-based founder of sports information website China Sports Insider.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see more investments into the game from Suning in the near future, as it looks to piece together assets in various key areas of the business."

Chinese investors already have minority stakes in England's Manchester City, Spain's Atletico Madrid and New York City FC, while smaller Spanish club Espanyol and England's Aston Villa are Chinese-owned. Inter's city rival AC Milan is also in talks to sell a majority stake to a group of Chinese investors.

Reuters reported last week that Suning's deal for Inter was imminent and that the firm was amongst the front-runners to buy UK-based Stellar Group, one of the world's leading soccer agencies.

Inter is currently controlled by Indonesian tycoon Erick Thohir with former owner Massimo Moratti owning just under 30 percent. Italian media have reported Suning will buy 70 percent of the club, valuing it at 750 million euros ($853 million).

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