CHENGDU: Sheffield United has acquired a controlling stake in Chengdu Five Bull Football Club the first foreign club to take over a Chinese team.
The English second division side, popularly known as the Blades, announced the purchase of a 90 per cent stake in China's second division team renamed the Chengdu Blades Football Club on Wednesday night.
"We are taking the Blades global with the acquisition of the Chengdu club," said Sheffield United Executive Chairman Kevin McCabe.
The Blades already have a presence in the country, where they run the Hainan Soccer Academy in South China.
Chengdu, with 10 million residents, is the capital of Southwest China's Sichuan Province that has a population of nearly 90 million.
"Although I do not expect them all to become fans, this does present us with a huge potential fan base with which we develop both the Chengdu and Sheffield United Brands," McCabe added.
T-shirt sales are likely to soar and Sheffield United are also looking forward to Chinese TV stations buying the telecast rights of their matches in China, especially after signing national defender Zhang Yaokun on loan from the Chinese Super League club Dalian Shide on Wednesday.
Zhang joins Hao Haidong as the second Chinese to play with the club on a US$100,000-deal.
"From a business point of view, there are numerous ways that we can enhance Chengdu's performance, and our initial focus will be on improving sponsorship and increasing attendance. We intend to establish a leisure/football shop in the stadium as well as a Blades bar in the city," said McCabe.
"In addition, we intend to sell Chengdu merchandise for the first time, encourage the growth of the fan base and create a new revenue stream," he added.
Li Bing, a former Chinese international forward, was named the head coach of the Chengdu team. He will have two coaches from Sheffield United as assistants.
The details and value of the deal were not disclosed.
Sheffield United's involvement will ease the financial pressure on the Chengdu club it is reportedly strapped for cash after a local cigarette company pulled out of a sponsorship deal.
The new club will spend about 20 million yuan (US$2.5 million) to build a brand-new team in the 2006 season, scheduled from March to October.
Sheffield United is one of several European clubs that are trying to cash in on the huge market potential in the world's most populous nation.
Real Madrid last year signed a deal to provide commercial and managerial support to Beijing Guo'an; and Scotland's Glasgow Rangers has a coaching and management contract with Shenzhen Jianlibao.
Source: China Daily