Nissan Says Jack Ma's Soccer Team Breached Sponsorship Agreement

  • Evergrande club replaced Nissan logo with name of own insurer
  • Evergrande says it'll enter insurance business day after match

Guangzhou Evergrande players celebrate after winning the second leg of the AFC Champions League final match against Al Ahli in Guangzhou. Source: ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

Nissan Motor Co.’s Chinese joint venture has accused billionaire Jack Ma’s soccer club of violating a sponsorship agreement by removing its advertising logo from the team jerseys before the final match of Asia’s top club competition held on Saturday.

Photos of the match show players for the Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao club, which Ma co-owns with fellow billionaire Hui Ka Yan, wearing jerseys bearing the name of Evergrande Real Estate Group Ltd.’s insurance unit instead of Dongfeng Nissan’s Venucia T70 sport utility vehicle. Evergrande went on to defeat Al Ahli of United Arab Emirates on aggregate to clinch the AFC Champions League title for a second time in three years.

The day after, Evergrande held a press conference to announce it’s entering the life insurance business. The real-estate developer bought a 50 percent stake in Great Eastern Life Assurance Co.’s Chinese joint venture for 3.9 billion yuan ($610 million) and will rename it Evergrande Life Insurance Co. Evergrande Real Estate shares climbed as much as 0.9 percent in Hong Kong trading on Tuesday after rising 5.1 percent on Monday.

Dongfeng Nissan said it’s “extremely shocked” that Evergrande had unilaterally canceled its sponsorship rights and has started legal proceedings against the club for breach of contract, according to a statement on its website. It received an e-mailed notice from Evergrande shortly before the start of the soccer final on Saturday, the automaker said.

Evergrande Real Estate said the developer had notified Dongfeng Nissan a month before the change without getting a response and is open to solving the dispute through mediation, failing which it will go through the legal process.

Soccer is the most-watched sport in China and automakers including Nissan are sponsoring teams to woo consumers in the world’s largest auto market. Ford Motor Co. signed a deal to be the official provider of vehicles to China’s domestic soccer league from 2014 to 2017.

— With assistance by Dingmin Zhang, and Jie Ma

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.