Chinese property and cinema giant Dalian Wanda Group said Thursday that it is buying the company that owns the Ironman triathlon brand and race series as it forecasts explosive demand in China for the sport.

Wanda is paying $650 million for Tampa, Fla.-based World Triathlon Corp., which it called "a jewel in the crown of world endurance sports," the company said in a statement.

The deal to buy World Triathlon, which operates 250 events a year, "will bring a top international competition to China for the first time," it said.

Triathlons, which combine swimming, biking and running, have grown in popularity and are now an Olympic event. More people in China are paying attention to fitness as their incomes rise, the company said, adding that the sport's "unique charm and challenge" is expected to attract the country's millions of cyclists and tens of millions of runners.

The acquisition adds to Wanda's growing stable of sports businesses. In February, it bought Swiss marketing firm Infront Sports & Media for 1.05 billion euros (then $1.2 billion). A month earlier, it took a 20 percent stake in Spanish champion football team Atletico Madrid for 45 million euros.

Wanda Chairman Wang Jianlin, one of China's richest individuals, said in July that he expected the company to acquire two more sports businesses by the end of the year, though they would have to have operations that can "take root" in China.

Wanda operates dozens of malls, cinemas and hotels in China. It also owns the U.S. movie theatre chain AMC and British yachtmaker Sunseeker.