King & Wood Mallesons has advised a large consortium of Chinese investors, led by Guochuan Lai and comprised of significant investments by Shenzhen-listed Palm Eco-Town Development Company Limited and private equity fund Yunyi Investment, on its acquisition of English Premier League Football Club West Bromwich Albion.
Jeremy Peace, Chairman of West Bromwich Albion, agreed to the sale of West Bromwich Albion Holdings Limited, which owns approximately 88% of the club’s parent entity, West Bromwich Albion Group Limited.
Five-time FA Cup winners West Bromwich Albion, based in West Bromwich in the West Midlands, UK, was formed in 1878. It has played at its home ground, The Hawthorns, since 1900. The club is currently preparing for its seventh successive season in the Premier League, after returning in 2009/10. As the first British football club to visit China in 1978, West Bromwich Albion has already established strong links with China.
Guochuan Lai built his career assisting with the development of Palm Eco-Town Development Company Limited (Palm), a listed Shenzhen Stock Exchange company with a market capitalisation of £1.8billion. Palm formed from a plant nursery business and grew into a substantial urban planning and landscaping company, with operations throughout China and in the rest of the world.
This transaction is the first acquisition of an English Premier League football club by a Chinese investor, and the first venture for Chinese private equity into the UK’s premium sports industry.
Guochuan Lai said, “We are also entering a golden age for football in China. China has a massive football fan base, which has only been growing in the past years. There is also a real commitment, strongly supported by the government, to develop football and its culture in China, and I am convinced that this transaction will serve to reinforce the love of football, while bringing West Bromwich Albion millions of new dedicated fans.”
William Holder, London Corporate partner, said, “We are delighted to have advised our client on such a historic deal, which puts the spotlight on the significant investment interest shown by Chinese businesses in European sports targets. This is a trend that we expect to gain momentum over the next few years as Chinese appetite continues to grow at pace. This is a further example of the way in which our market-leading Corporate practice, working in tandem with our unrivalled China practice, can offer a real difference in transaction management and client experience.”
Sha Jun, Guangzhou Corporate partner, said, “I have been a friend with Mr Lai for years and have worked with him on a number of projects. I am very pleased with the marvellous achievements made by Mr Lai and his team. Meanwhile, in this landmark transaction, I have also seen the many advantages demonstrated by KWM lawyers. Through the joint efforts made by both the Guangzhou and London offices, KWM resolved various tricky legal questions with our unparalleled expertise and professional experiences. We managed to satisfy all the requirements of both Chinese and UK regulatory bodies for a successful outcome.”
James Zeng, Guangzhou Corporate partner, said, “This is a significant deal for our client, the firm and the wider market, which demonstrates the strengths of our cross-border practice; combining our local depth with our global platform. Working seamlessly as one global team, this transaction further illustrates the power of our AQ strategy, using the understanding and relationships of our partners in the China and the expertise of our European team together to achieve a historic outcome. I want to take this opportunity to congratulate our client and also thank all the members of our KWM team, who have made tremendous efforts to make this challenging deal possible.”
The deal was made possible owing to King & Wood Mallesons’ unique ability to cover UK and PRC law under one firm. The cross-border team was led by Guangzhou-based partners James Zeng ,Sha Jun and Wang Jianxue with assistance from associates Fiona Luo, Pat Liao, Susie Zhang, Chen Junyu and Nikki Chang. The team in London was led by partner William Holder, and his cross-practice team, including Corporate partner Joe Newitt, managing associate Michaela Moore and associate Aditi Venkat; Tax partner; Gareth Amdor and associate Charlotte Haywood; Employment partner Carl Richards and associates Stephen Hall and Chloe Scott; and Financial Regulatory partner Tim Dolan and associates Ramya Juwadi and Jack Pailing.
The transaction is subject to regulatory approval.