Credit: Ryan Christopher Jones for The New York Times
Dalian Wanda, the Chinese real estate conglomerate that has spent billions of dollars to command a prominent position in the entertainment industry, is aggressively establishing a beachhead in sports, too.
The company, owned by Wang Jianlin, one of China’s richest people, has added the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon series to its leisure and lifestyle portfolio by acquiring Competitor Group Inc. and transforming the American-based Ironman company into one of the largest endurance sports organizations in the world.
Since Dalian Wanda bought Ironman in 2015 for $650 million, the company has been on a buying spree in outdoor sports like marathons, road cycling and mountain bike races. The Wanda Sports arm of Dalian Wanda already owns or operates more than 20 running races worldwide, including the Singapore Marathon, the Auckland Marathon and Marathon Bordeaux.
Dalian Wanda also owns part of Atlético Madrid, one of the leading Spanish soccer teams.
The Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon series brings a festive, block-party vibe to competitive running and attracts more than 600,000 athletes a year in eight international races and 22 major markets in the United States.
“This is an important step in the growth Ironman has seen over the last decade,” said Andrew Messick, Ironman’s chief executive. “As a globally recognized endurance brand, the acquisition of the world’s largest running platform puts us in an exciting position for the future growth of running worldwide.”
Beginning in 1978 with a triathlon in Hawaii with 15 starters that was won by a taxi driver, Ironman now hosts more than 200 events in 50 countries for more than 400,000 athletes. In recent years, the company has moved into road cycling events, mountain bike races and marathons.
In 2012, Calera Capital bought Competitor Group Inc. and at the time valued the company at nearly $250 million. Messick declined to say how much Ironman paid for the company.
In recent years a surge of acquisitions has made Dalian Wanda the world’s biggest owner of movie theaters, with complexes across the United States, Europe and Australia. In January 2016 it bought Legendary Entertainment for $3.5 billion.
With a population of 1.3 billion people and a rising middle class with an unquenchable thirst for sports, China is a “spectacular” untapped market, Messick said. In 2016, the company held its first two Ironman 70.3 races in China — in Hefei and Xiamen. Last August, the company announced the addition of three Ironman 70.3 triathlons in China in 2017 — Ironman 70.3 Liuzhou, which has already taken place, Ironman 70.3 Qujing, recently rescheduled for Aug. 27, and Ironman 70.3 Chongqing, which is scheduled for Sept. 24.
“We are being ambitious and aggressive to help grow a mass participation sport in China,” Messick said. “We are bullish on the continued emergence of the Chinese consumer. We are convinced that as average income continues to rise and more people move into the middle class, there will be more attention paid to health and recreation.”