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Tianjin Tianhai's current owners are contending with financial difficulties -- debts of $145 million against assets of $100 million according to ESPN. The team’s financial troubles are said to have progressed to the point that it is unclear if they will be able to participate in the Chinese Super League’s 2020 season.
"The club have reached a critical moment and in order to maintain the hard-fought position in the Chinese Super League, have, after careful considerations, made a difficult decision," the team said in a statement on social media channels, according to ESPN.
The Chinese Super League was set to begin its 2020 season on Feb. 22. However, the season’s start was delayed amid the outbreak of coronavirus in China and various other countries.
Tianjin Tianhai is owned by the Tianjin Football Association. The team transferred ownership last year after its previous owner, Chinese pharmaceutical company Quanjian Group, was linked to a marketing scandal that resulted in the arrest of its CEO, Shu Yuhui. In January he was sentenced to nine years' imprisonment for organizing and leading an illegal pyramid selling scheme.
During Shu's ownership of the soccer team, it was a high flier in the fast-growing Chinese soccer world. In 2016, Brazillian star Alexandre Pato signed with the team and it eventually made it to the Asian Champions League for the first time, losing in the quarterfinals. But once Shu's legal troubles began and his money dried up, the club struggled on the field and at the gate. The Tianjin Football Association took over control of the team, changed the name from Tianjin Quanjian to Tianjin Tianhai and slashed the budget and imposed extensive budgetary restrictions. Pato has since returned to his old club in Sao Paulo
Aside from its financial difficulties, the team faced relegation – a professional soccer term referencing demotion to a lower-tier league – last season.
But a new season lies ahead, with hoped-for new ownership. "We will transfer 100% of the club with zero fee,” the team added.