Man City owners expand empire

Man City owners expand empire
The Etihad stadium, home of Manchester City in the UK. The owners, City Football Group (CFG), are expanding their global stable of clubs to eight in countries from China to Japan to the US. (Shutterstock)
Updated 29 November 2019

Man City owners expand empire

Man City owners expand empire
  • Mumbai City FC deal comes a day after Abu Dhabi-owned CFG becomes most valuable soccer group in the world

MUMBAI: The owners of Premier League champions Manchester City have agreed to buy 65 percent of Indian soccer team Mumbai City FC, expanding their global stable of clubs to eight in countries from China to Japan to the US.

The City Football Group (CFG) announced the deal just a day after it agreed to sell a stake to the US private equity firm Silver Lake for $500 million, making it the most valuable soccer group in the world with a $4.8 billion price tag.

While rivals such as Manchester United have focused on building their brand and global following based on one team, CFG has acquired clubs around the world and modelled them on the Manchester City style of play and off-field organization.

The strategy has helped to boost the exposure and popularity of the Premier League champions, whose fortunes have been transformed after decades in the doldrums thanks to an infusion of cash from Abu Dhabi since 2008.

Announcing the Mumbai City deal, Manchester City CEO Ferran Soriano said that the group had been looking for years at soccer in India and the Indian Super League (ISL), which is currently in its sixth season.

“Our goal is long term, we are here to stay,” he told a news conference in Mumbai. 

“We are not here to lose money, we will look to help the league generally improve so that everybody makes money, including us. It will take time, we are patient.”

Mumbai City FC’s home ground is the Mumbai Football Arena, which has a capacity of just 8,000 while the team is sitting in seventh place in the 10-team ISL after five games.

“We believe that this investment will deliver transformative benefits to Mumbai City FC, to City Football Group and to Indian Football as a whole,” CFG Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak said in the statement.

Reuters had reported earlier on Thursday that CFG, which is majority owned by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was likely to acquire a majority stake in Mumbai City.

Existing shareholders in the Mumbai club, including Bollywood actor Ranbir Kapoor and chartered accountant Bimal Parekh, will control the remaining 35 percent stake.

Cricket-mad India is a massive underachiever as far as soccer is concerned and the country of 1.3 billion people has yet to make a single appearance at a World Cup final.

A number of European clubs have, however, set up academies on a franchise basis to get a foothold in a potentially huge market. Spain’s La Liga has invested in a network of training centers to keep an eye on emerging talent and to encourage sales of strips for teams such as Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Traditionally quite popular in Goa, Kerala and Kolkata, interest in soccer in India has grown over the past decade with the arrival of hundreds of artificial pitches in cities such as Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi, which have drawn in a young population previously focused chiefly on cricket.

“It is a great endorsement of the increasing appeal of Indian football and for all football fans in India,” Nita Ambani, founder chairperson of the ISL, said in the City Group statement.

English Premier League and European Champions League games now draw millions of viewers and are easily available on India’s big streaming networks for subscriptions of $7 to $13 a year.

The ISL is promoted by billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries and TV network Star India, which is owned by Walt Disney.

According to the Broadcast Audience Research Council, soccer had a total of 498 million viewers in India in 2018 last year compared with 741 million for cricket.

Mumbai City has had Premier League veterans such as Freddie Ljungberg, Nicolas Anelka and Diego Forlan as marquee players in the past. The first edition of the ISL was won by Atletico de Kolkata, which then counted Atletico Madrid as a co-owner. 


France wants end to US-Europe trade spat

France wants end to US-Europe trade spat
Updated 17 January 2021

France wants end to US-Europe trade spat

France wants end to US-Europe trade spat
  • All eyes on President-elect Biden to resolve disputes between partners

PARIS: The EU and the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden should suspend a trade dispute to give themselves time to find common ground, France’s foreign minister said in remarks published on Sunday.

“The issue that’s poisoning everyone is that of the price escalation and taxes on steel, digital technology and Airbus,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told Le Journal du Dimanche in an interview.

He said he hoped the sides could find a way to settle the dispute. “It may take time, but in the meantime, we can always order a moratorium,” he added.

At the end of December the US moved to boost tariffs on French and German aircraft parts in the Boeing-Airbus subsidy dispute, but the bloc decided to hold off on retaliation for now.

The EU is planning to present a World Trade Organization (WTO) reform proposal in February and is willing to consider reforms to restrain the judicial authority of the WTO’s dispute-settlement body.

The US has for years complained that the WTO Appellate Body makes unjustified new trade rules in its decisions and has blocked the appointment of new judges to stop this, rendering the body inoperable.

The Trump administration, which leaves office on Wednesday, had threatened to impose tariffs on French cosmetics, handbags and other goods in retaliation for France’s digital services tax, which it said discriminated against US tech firms.

Overturning decades of free trade consensus was a central part of Trump’s “America First” agenda. In 2018, declaring that “trade wars are good, and easy to win,” he shocked allies by imposing tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from most of the world.

While Trump later dropped tariffs against Australia, Japan, Brazil and South Korea in return for concessions, he kept them in place against more than $7 billion worth of EU metal. The bloc retaliated with tariffs on more than $3 billion worth of US goods, from orange juice and blue jeans to Harley Davidson bikes, and took its case to the WTO.

While Biden promises to be more predictable than Trump, he is not expected to lift the steel tariffs immediately. Even if he wants to, he could run into reluctance from producers in “rust belt” states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania that secured his election win.

Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of trade think tank ECIPE, said the US was unlikely to award Europe a “free pass,” noting that countries that had offered concessions to have their tariffs lifted could complain if Europe won better treatment.

Resolving future trade disputes could become easier, if Biden reverses Trump policy that paralyzed the WTO by blocking the appointment of judges to its appellate body.