In 1978, former Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping invited West Bromwich Albion Football Club to tour China, making it the first football club to visit and play exhibition games there. Thirty-eight years on, and inspired by the Club’s connection to China, its dedicated fan base and history of success, Mr Guochuan Lai's Yunyi Guokai Sports Development consortium (the Consortium) led the first mainland Chinese investment into a Premier League football club, acquiring an 87% stake of West Bromwich Albion Group Limited, whose interests include the West Bromwich Albion Football Club (the Club).
The success of this deal comes as diplomatic and economic relations begin to flourish, as new investment strategies and trade deregulation foster a “golden era” between the UK and China.
King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) advised the Consortium on the sale of the Club from former Chairman Jeremy Peace in September 2016. The acquisition required expertise and insight into multiple jurisdictions and legal practices, cross-border knowledge of private and public law in the PRC and UK, flexibility in negotiations, and an appreciation of different cultures and values.
Delivering a successful outcome required an astute ability to tie the interests of the Sellers, Consortium, the Club and the Premier League together to guarantee a smooth transfer of ownership, while ensuring clarity and stability for the Club, shareholders and its fan base. KWM’s unique Asian intelligence and unrivalled expertise of Chinese outbound investment allowed the team to navigate the complexities of the transaction.
KWM offered a comprehensive, round-the-clock service to clients based in different time zones. With our market-leading Corporate practice in London working in tandem with our unrivalled China practice, the team offered a real difference in transaction management and client experience. The deal was led by Corporate partner William Holder in London and Corporate partners Sha Jun, James Zeng and Wang Jianxue in Guangzhou, who seamlessly tied together the M&A, Employment, Regulatory and Tax departments in London and Guangzhou. The acquisition, from initial proposal to final acquisition, took three months, with the efficiency of the deal owed to KWM’s pre-eminent position in both jurisdictions.
KWM was well positioned to facilitate this deal, owed to its presence and unrivalled expertise in China, working to guarantee that the Chinese Consortium’s ground-breaking entry into the Premier League reached completion. Guochuan Lai said: “There is 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.”
Will Holder, KWM London
Sha Jun, James Zeng and Wang Jianxue, KWM Guangzhou