Wanda crosses finish line to clinch $650m WTC deal

China's Dalian Wanda has acquired Florida-based World Triathlon, owner of the Ironman brand, as part of an aggressive overseas diversification push.

China’s Dalian Wanda has acquired 100% of the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), the largest operator of Ironman triathlon events, for $650 million, Wanda said in a statement on Thursday.

The purchase of the Tampa, Florida-based WTC will make the Chinese company controlled by billionaire Wang Jianlin the largest sports operating company in the world, the statement said.

Furthermore, the takeover will enable Wanda to "secure core resources and assets in the global sports industry" and "complete the formation of a comprehensive sports business," the statement added.

Bulking up

Primarily engaged in property development, the acquisition of the US sports company is in line with Wanda's strategy to diversify and grow through acquisitions.

"Acquisitions [of major global sports brands] are the only way for most [sports] companies to scale up efficiently," the company said in the statement. "Triathlons are a jewel in the crown of world endurance sports and WTC exclusively owns the major global triathlon brands."

Dalian Wanda's aggressive overseas acquisition programme has in recent years seen the company extend its buying spree well beyond the real estate sector, its core business.

In January, it bought a 20% stake in Spanish football team Atletico Madrid for $52 million. A month later, it acquired the Swiss sports marketing company Infront Sports & Media from European private equity firm Bridgepoint for €1.05 billion ($1.2 billion).

In 2012, the group purchased AMC Entertainment, the movie theater chain, for $2.6 billion including debt, becoming owner of the world’s biggest cinema chain. It was the most substantial M&A transaction in the leisure and recreation sector at the time.

Bringing trophy home

Wanda said the WTC acquisition will help "bring a top international [triathlon] competition to China for the first time" and "marks a key development of China's sports industry", against a backdrop of the country's economic slowdown and stock market plunge.

WTC, which runs 250 triathlon events globally each year, is famous for its flagship Ironman brand. Triathlons, a gruelling and challenging endurance sport particularly popular in Europe and the United States, has yet to gain traction with Chinese sports enthusiasts. The country has roughly 100 amateurs competing in triathlons, accoridng to Chinese media reports.

“Triathlons are on the cusp of exploding [in popularity] in China,” Wanda said. “As China enters the ranks of middle income countries, [Chinese] people are paying increasing attention to physical fitness and spiritual fulfillment…the potential for triathlon participation is huge.”

China has long been obsessed with physical fitness. Throughout the country, public parks are filled with people practicing martial arts, ballroom dancing and badminton, among a slew of other health-enhancing activities.

Team spirit

In 2008, US private equity firm Providence Equity Partners acquired the WTC from the Gills family, which owned the company for nearly two decades.

The entire WTC management team has agreed to stay on post-takeover and signed long-term employment contracts with Wanda to that effect. Management continuity will help the new owner launch triathlon events in China and elsewhere.

¬ Haymarket Media Limited. All rights reserved.
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