Berlusconi signs deal to sell full AC Milan stake

MILAN – AC Milan is the latest European club to be taken over by Chinese owners after Silvio Berlusconi reached a preliminary deal to sell his entire majority stake in the seven-time European champion that he has owned for 30 years.

The deal with a Chinese investor group, which includes the participation of a Chinese state investment fund, values the club at 740 million euros (around $820 million) and requires the investors to spend 350 million euros over three years on improvements, Berlusconi’s investment arm Fininvest said in a statement on Friday. The deal is to be finalized by the end of the year.

Berlusconi owns 99.93 per cent of the club. The three-time former premier and billionaire businessman has been negotiating for over a year to sell a stake in the club, failing to reach a deal for a 48-per cent stake with Thai investors last year before opening talks in May with the then-unnamed Chinese investors, initially for a 70 per cent stake.

The deal comes a month after Chinese retail giant Suning bought a majority 70-per cent stake in Inter Milan, which shares the San Siro Stadium with AC Milan, and the same day that another group of Chinese investors — Yunyi Guokai (Shanghai) Sports Development Limited — reached a deal to buy out English Premier League club West Bromwich Albion subject to approval.

Fininvest said Berlusconi’s goal in negotiating the sale was “to provide AC Milan, through an appropriate ownership structure, with greater financial resources now more essential for competing with the top football clubs of the world.”

One of the Serie A’s most successful teams, AC Milan finished last season in seventh place and has not won the Italian league since 2011.

Berlusconi bought the team in 1986, presiding over its most successful era as the team won 28 trophies, including eight Serie A titles and five European Cups. He staked personal pride and energy in the club, dedicating a friendly game each off-season — called the Luigi Berlusconi Trophy — to his father’s memory. But cash flow issues in recent years slowed investments, and the team’s performance on the field suffered.

The Fininvest statement did not address future management of the club. Berlusconi currently is chairman and a daughter, Barbara, sits on the board of directors.

The Chinese investors operate through the management company Sino-Europe Sports Investment Management Changxing Co. Ltd, whose chairman was identified as Yonghog Li. The investor group includes Haixia Capital, the State Development & Investment Corporation (“SDIC”), and the management company chairman, as well as other unidentified investors in the financial industry and industrial sectors, some of which are state-controlled.