Photographer: Alessandro Della Bella/Bloomberg

China’s Alibaba Said to Discuss High-Level FIFA Sponsorship

  • Top-tier partners pay $160 million over a World Cup cycle
  • Dalian Wanda signed up in March amid China soccer push

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. is discussing becoming a top sponsor of FIFA, according to people familiar with the matter, a partnership that would strengthen the ties between China’s power brokers and global soccer’s top executives.

Alibaba would become the second Chinese company to commit to soccer’s governing body at a high level after Dalian Wanda Group Co. signed up earlier this year. Since President Xi Jinping made soccer success a national priority, Chinese companies and businessmen have made a slew of investments in national and international clubs, and the country has made plain its desire to host the FIFA World Cup.

A sponsorship deal hasn’t been finalized and details aren’t known. It could involve any of the group’s subsidiaries or affiliates. For example, Alibaba E-Auto is the title sponsor of the FIFA Club World Cup.

Alibaba Sports has been in touch with FIFA because of the affiliation with the Club World Cup, said Wang Jingyi, a Shanghai-based spokeswoman who declined to comment further. A FIFA representative said the organization doesn’t comment on speculation about commercial negotiations.

FIFA Sponsors

FIFA has struggled to sign sponsors in the wake of a corruption scandal that led to charges against several senior officials. Before Wanda, it hadn’t added a new top-tier sponsor since 2012. Meanwhile, its legal bills ballooned to $62 million, and the organization posted a loss last year for the first time since 2002.

The organization has three tiers of sponsorship. Six to eight slots are designated for "FIFA partners," a commitment that costs about $40 million per year and lasts for a four-year World Cup cycle. In March, Wanda joined Adidas AG, Coca-Cola Co., Gazprom, Hyundai Motor Co. and Visa Inc.. at that top level.

There are still two open slots, which the people familiar with the matter said are expected to be filled by the end of the summer. They didn’t want to be identified because talks are confidential and continuing. At a press conference to announce Wanda’s partnership, founder and Chief Executive Officer Wang Jianlin predicted another Chinese company would sign up "within a very short time."

Wanda said by supporting FIFA, China would stand a better chance of hosting the World Cup, a competition the national team last qualified for in 2002, when it lost all three group games. The next World Cup will take place in Russia in 2018.

FIFA is re-evaluating its regulation that prevents the World Cup from taking place on the same continent consecutively. Because Qatar, the 2022 host, is part of the Asian soccer confederation, the current rules mean China wouldn’t be able to stage the event until 2030 at the earliest.

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