China's Wanda to buy Ironman triathlon organiser for $910 mllion

BEIJING - Chinese real estate and entertainment giant Dalian Wanda will buy the organiser of Ironman extreme endurance contests for US$650 million (S$910 million), it said Thursday in its latest sporting acquisition.

The deal for the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) comes after Wanda bought a stake in Spanish football club Atletico Madrid and spent more than a billion euros on Swiss sports marketing group Infront.

Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin -- a multi-billionaire and one of China's richest men -- has built his firm into a property giant but has been diversifying into sports and entertainment in recent years.

Full Ironman races involve a 3.9 kilometre (2.4 mile) swim, followed by a 180 kilometre cycle race, and then a marathon.

Wanda hopes to increase the popularity of triathlons in China, the company said in a statement announcing the deal.

"As China enters the ranks of middle income countries, people are paying increasing attention to physical fitness and spiritual fulfilment, and triathlon's unique charm and challenge is set to attract a large number of people," the company said.

WTC is headquartered in Tampa, Florida USA, and Wanda said it operates at least 250 events a year, describing it as "the world's largest operator of Ironman events".

But the WTC is rivalled in administering triathlons by the International Triathlon Union (ITU), which has in the past accused it of lower standards and replacing "the focus of building sport participation and exposure with a revenue generating model to turn profits".

The two organisations held talks last year which the ITU described on its website as "historic" and aimed at co-ordinating their rules.

So far this year Wanda has spent 45 million euros on a 20 per cent share of Atletico Madrid, and 1.05 billion euros on Infront, headed by the nephew of outgoing FIFA president Sepp Blatter and which holds some broadcasting rights to the football World Cup.

"Within this year, Wanda will still buy at least three sports companies," Wang said in June, according to China's official Xinhua news agency. "Upon the completion of these mergers and acquisitions, Wanda is going to be the world number one in the sports industry."

Wang's phrasing suggested that the "at least three" deals did not include the Atletico or Infront acquisitions.

Bloomberg News ranks Wang as one of China's richest men with a net worth of $29.5 billion.