Huang Jianhua and his Hong Kong-based QSL Sports are well known to followers of basketball in China. As Kenny Huang he may soon be well known to football fans everywhere.
In February 2009, the Guangdong-born, American educated deal maker made an arrangement with the Chinese Basketball Association to invest in the National Basketball League in return for an exclusive eight-year contract to promote and manage the NBL. Since then he has brought in 500 million yuan ($74 million) of sponsorship to the league. He also owns the NBL’s Jilin franchise. Now, he is said to be turning his attention to football with a bid for the English Premier League’s Liverpool which has been put up for sale by its American co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
It would not be Huang’s first foray into foreign sports team ownership, should his bid be successful (Liverpool says his is one of six bids received). He was part of an investment group that bid for a 15% stake in the U.S. NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and has struck marketing deals with both the NBA’s Houston Rockets (Yao Ming’s team) and MLB’s New York Yankees to promote the American teams in China and to get Chinese advertisers in front of the cameras at NBA games that are shown on TV in China.
We understand Huang turned down an opportunity to buy Liverpool in 2008 for £650 million, because he didn’t think the heavily indebted club was worth that. The team is now valued at around £350m, though not necessarily by its owners. Although Liverpool has had its troubles on and off the field in recent times, the Reds, along with Manchester United, remain one of the two best known English football brands in China. This all seems like a marketing driven deal, but if it comes off it would finally give some substance to Huang’s reputation as a sports business tycoon rather than just a sports deal maker.