Will China’s sports brand Li-Ning replicate Anta’s cash cow FILA with Clarks?
A “good bargain”
A two-year acquisition has drawn to a close with the man behind the Chinese sportswear label Li-Ning finally taking control of British shoemaker Clarks. The change in hands follows a joint venture between Viva China and LionRock Capital, of which the Chinese gymnast-turned-entrepreneur Li Ning sits as a non-executive chairman.
The purchase of Clarks is seen as an attempt by Li Ning to further expedite into the fashion territory at home with the intention of replicating FILA’s momentum.
The venture saw Viva China, a Hong Kong traded Chinese sports talent agency, founded by the former athlete that also owns Li’s namesake sports brand Li-Ning, pick up a 51% stake in Clarks, a century-old brand generating an estimated tens of billions of pounds of revenue at a cost of 840 million RMB ($125.53 million) – a deal that has been deemed a “good bargain”.
While some have viewed the move as a step taken by Li-Ning to pave the way for the brand’s global expansion, others have drawn parallel from the buy-up of the Italian sports brand FILA’s business in China by domestic rival Anta. The purchase of Clarks is seen as an attempt by Li Ning to further expedite into the fashion territory at home with the intention of replicating FILA’s momentum, therefore, reclaiming its leading position in China.
Losing ground to a local challenger
Up until 2010, Li-Ning remained a domestic sportswear unicorn. However, the tables soon turned after Anta’s move to take over FILA China in 2009, opening the doors for Anta to China’s premium athleisure market. This contributed to approximately half of Anta’s overall gross profit margin with an annual growth rate of 56% between 2010 and 2020. And thanks to the cash cow FILA, Anta has now overtaken Li-Ning in revenue hitting 49.3 billion RMB ($7.34 billion) in 2021, more than twice as much as that recorded at Li-Ning and is hot on the tail of the world’s biggest sportswear giant Nike in the Chinese market.
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