China’s property and cinema giant Dalian Wanda Group said Thursday that it will buy Florida-based World Triathlon Corp (WTC), which owns the popular Ironman Triathlon franchise, for $650 million. WTC is owned by private equity firm Providence Equity Partners LLC and the deal coincides with the growing popularity of the Ironman race, especially in China.
A source familiar with the deal said, according to the Wall Street Journal, that it had a value of $900 million and that it represents quadrupling Providence’s investment in WTC. Providence transformed WTC, which it acquired in 2008, from licenser to owner and operator of the Ironman races, the Journal reported. WTC currently operates 250 events a year.
Wang Jianlin, who owns the Dalian Wanda Group, is Asia’s richest man and reportedly lost about $13 billion in the stocks crash earlier this week. Wanda Dalian Commercial Properties is the largest property owner in China with over 17 million square meters in its portfolio. Wang was announced to be the richest man in Asia by the Hurun Report last week, overtaking Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing.
Wanda called WTC "a jewel in the crown of world endurance sports," according to the Associated Press (AP), adding that the deal will "bring a top international competition to China for the first time."
The endurance-athletics market has been growing consistently and has attracted big names to the industry. Virgin Group Ltd., which launched Virgin Sport in May, also hired Mary Wittenberg -- longtime head of New York Road Runners that owns TCS New York City Marathon -- as its CEO.
The sporting event does not need a stadium or high labor expenses as it is mostly held on city streets or rural trails, keeping costs low, the Journal reported. Triathlons involve swimming, biking and running, and the company is banking on the Chinese population, which, with a rise in income, is increasingly paying attention to such activities. Wanda believes that the sport’s "unique charm and challenge" will help attract more participants.
In February, Wanda bought Swiss marketing firm Infront Sports & Media for 1.05 billion euros (then $1.2 billion), a month after it acquired a 20 percent stake in Spanish champion football team Atletico Madrid for 45 million euros, AP reported. Wang also estimated in July that the company will take control of two more sports businesses by the end of 2015 though he added that he wanted businesses that can "take root" in China.
“Ironman is not only a great brand but a great business. It generates a lot of cash. It fits into a lot of macro trends around health and wellness,” R. Davis Noell, a Providence managing director, said, according to the Journal, adding that Dalian Wanda was not the only suitor for the deal. “There are a lot of disappointed people that they weren’t the ultimate buyer here.”