HONG KONG (Reuters) - Evergrande Taobao, the soccer team co-owned by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and property firm Evergrande Real Estate Group Ltd, could become the first club listed in Asia after it filed for an initial public offering in China.
The team, which recently signed Brazilian World Cup winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, filed with the National Equities Exchange and Quotations (NEEQ) to list on the so-called "New Third Board," Evergrande said in a filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange on Thursday.
The company gave no size for the planned listing, which is pending approval by the NEEQ that operates China's leading over-the-counter (OTC) equity exchange.
Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba last year agreed to pay $192 million for half of the team, just months ahead of the company's record-breaking IPO in the United States. The deal was hatched over a few drinks between co-founder and Executive Chairman Jack Ma and Evergrande's billionaire Chairman Xu Jiayin.
Evergrande Taobao's valuation has reached 10 billion yuan($1.61 billion), according to Chinese media, smaller than Manchester United Plc's nearly $3 billion market capitalization, but much larger than more traditional publicly listed teams such as Juventus FC SpA and SS Lazio SpA in Italy and Germany's Borussia Dortmund.
Evergrande said it currently owned 60 percent of the team and planned to sell none of its shares in the offering.
The team, formally known as Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao
Football Club Co Ltd, won the AFC Champions League in 2013 and the Chinese Super League in 2014. It has a 50,000-seat stadium in Guangzhou, China's third-largest city.
China released a sweeping plan in March to reform soccer, a sport that has been mired in corruption and miserable results, with the men's national team suffering a string of embarrassing defeats on the international stage.
The reforms include increasing the number of elementary and middle-school soccer programs to 50,000 in 2025 from about 5,000, and terminating the relationship between the government body which oversees sport and the Chinese Football Association, China's national soccer body.
This would bring Chinese soccer more in line with international FIFA standards which require a strict separation between politics and the sport.
(Reporting by Elzio Barreto; Additional reporting by Clare Jim in Hong Kong and Sue-Lin Wong in Shanghai; Editing by Stephen Coates)