Infront Sports dismisses RCS acquisition claims

Zug-based Infront Sports & Media has dismissed Milano Finanzo reports claiming it seeks to acquire RCS Sport, while the latest follow-up article also claims that two other multinationals are now circling the financially-troubled owner of the Giro d Italia.

The articles published by Milano Finanzo, a financial broadsheet published by Milan-based media conglomerate Class Editori S.p.A., claim Chinese-owned Wanda Sports is looking to continue its rapid expansion into the global sports market through acquisitions of Grand Tour owners RCS Sport and Amaury Sports Organisation.

Wanda Sports was formally announced by Beijing-headquarted Dalian Wanda Group as a new entity on November 25, following the Group s twin acquisitions of Infront Sports & Media and World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) earlier this year. Infront s President & CEO Philippe Blatter was promoted to lead the new Wanda Sports operations. Both Infront and WTC are to be absorbed into the new entity and rebranded in the following months, though are still operating under their existing names.

When contacted by Cycling iQ on Wednesday, Infront Italy S.r.L Communications and PR spokesperson Chiara Signorotto, confirmed she had read the articles (paywalled, but both heavily referenced by Calcio e Finanza) authored by Andrea Montanari of Milano Finanza, but dismissed it as speculation .

They often write about the fact that Wanda wants to widen its reach into the sport business market. So, they think, they deem, that cycling will be the next sport business where Wanda will invest. This is really just wrong. It s nothing to do with real business. I think that this comes from the fact that RCS Sport is really now in a difficult economic situation and they manage the Giro d Italia. Milano Finanza might have a link to the fact that (Wanda Group) is acquiring a lot of sports market companies, so they might think about this. In reality we didn t have any contact with RCS Sport. It s just their idea, their speculation. That said, generally speaking, we do not comment on potential investments.

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Montanari s latest article, published 08 December, also claims that it s not only Wanda that is interested in RCS Sport. US conglomerates IMG Worldwide and Discovery Communications are also said to be potential buyers. For this to happen, RCS Sports parent company, RCS MediaGroup, would have to spin off RCS Sports for complete acquisition or perhaps enter into a joint venture.

Understandably, the Milano Finanza reports have generated considerable coverage and discussion in the cycling media, though no new details have emerged. In China, where the business dealings of Wanda Group s Chairman Wang Jianlin are ordinarily well-documented by state-run media, only cycling website Biketo.com has alluded to the article; though it cynically suggests western media are quicker to speculate when a wealthy Chinese businessman begins making headlines in a particular sector compared to a non-Chinese peer doing the same.

This type of sentiment is not new, but it underestimates Class Editori s connections to China. In 2011, the company signed an agreement with the Chinese Government s Xinhua News Agency to cooperate on editorial projects . Last year, Class Editori partnered with Chinese tech firm Century Fortunet Limited to develop a new B2B e-commerce platform CCIGMall to enable Italian SMEs to sell their goods directly to Chinese retailers. Class Editori describes itself as the main agent for the fashion, luxury goods, accessories and design on the platform, amongst other exclusive areas including advertising.

Milano Finanza also organises the annual China Awards in Milan, which honours Chinese companies promoting Sino-Italian trade and cultural exchange. Speaking to Xinhua reporters at this year s awards in late November Paolo Panerai, chief editor and CEO of Class Editori, noted that China is surely the country that has invested the most in Italy over the last two years .

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When contacted by Cycling iQ to discuss his claims further, Montanari replied that a qualified French financial source told me about Wanda s interest in the company managing the Tour de France. Whereas in Italy several qualified financial sources told me that there are international interests in RCS Sport, among which Wanda, IMG and Discovery.

RCS Sports Head of Corporate Media Relations Maria Verdiana Tardi, could not be reached by telephone and emails have to date remained unanswered.

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