Triathletes compete in the swimming leg of the Ironman Copenhagen on Monday.
Triathletes compete in the swimming leg of the Ironman Copenhagen on Monday. - 
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The Ironman triathlon competition has just been swallowed up by the Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group.

The company announced today it bought Florida-based World Triathlon Corporation for $650 million. Wanda already owns the AMC movie theater chain in the U.S. It recently bought a Swiss sports marketing firm and a portion of a Spanish soccer team. It calls the Ironman purchase part of its “comprehensive sports strategy.”

“There’s a possibility that they see this as an opportunity for vertical integration in a completely different area of sports entertainment,” says Karl Gerth, who studies China at the University of California, San Diego.

He says the company wants internationally well-known brands like Ironman to draw attention — and people — to the hotels and other properties it already owns.

Wanda says triathlons are “on the cusp of explosion” in China, but Jeff Wasserstrom at University of California, Irvine is skeptical.

“Well, we’ve heard stories about skiing being poised to explode, we’ve been hearing about other things," he says. "But they are real niche things, and there is a bit of oversell.”

But he does agree with the company’s assessment that China’s middle class is ready to move away from watching popular sports to joining in.

David Berri, a sports economist at Southern Utah University, says what makes triathlons appealing is that it’s not just for the most elite of athletes.

“Well, what we’re seeing as economies grow around the world," he says, "and incomes go up around the world, there’s more and more interest in all sorts of sports. One could argue this is a sport that lots of different people can participate in.”

And they need gear, hotels, training space and air time, which Wanda is happy to provide.

Follow Kimberly Adams at @KA_Marketplace