Since 2012, French soccer has been dominated, both on the pitch and off it, by Parisian giants Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), a period that began with the 100% purchase of the club by state-backed equity group Qatar Sports Investments (QSI).
QSI’s large-scale investment into the playing side of the club has seen PSG become the record winners of both the country’s Ligue 1 top-tier league, as well as its Coup de France, Trophée des Champions, and now-defunct Coupe de la Ligue cup competitions.
Since the group took control of the club, PSG has won nine of the last 11 Ligue 1 titles and has been a consistent competitor on the continent with one Champions League final appearance and several deep runs in the competition.
The ownership, among the richest of any soccer club, has enabled PSG to attract global stars such as Neymar, Lionel Messi, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to play for the club, a move that has attracted criticism from its competitors but paid off major dividends for the club in the form of silverware, and commercial income.
Off the pitch, the club has financially dominated the French soccer landscape, becoming a global commercial powerhouse. The financial publication Forbes states that the club is the seventh-most valuable on the planet.
GlobalData Sport analysts estimate that PSG’s sponsorship value sits at $309.23 million annually, by far the biggest in France and almost six times the nearest competitor, this comes despite having a smaller sponsorship portfolio than two other clubs.
Speaking at a media session in London, UK, PSG chief revenue officer Marc Armstrong was keen to show the strength of the club’s financial position, especially regarding the position it finds itself in in European soccer.
“When you see the Deloitte Money League, we’re going to have record revenue for [the 2022-23 fiscal year], we’re going to be above $800 million [in revenue] for the first time,” Armstrong says. “That’s huge growth and we’re confident we’ll keep on that trajectory and that growth pattern, so we have to keep driving.”
Armstrong stressed the club’s belief that there is always more to be done, explaining: “We’re confident that we’re in a good place but we have to keep working hard.
“We’re trying new things. We’ve hired a head of Web3 and Metaverse [Pär Helgosson]. We’ve just hired a new chief digital officer from META, previously at Chelsea [Jerry Newman]. We have to keep finding new ways to grow.”
The diversification of revenue streams is of major importance to the club which competes among Europe’s elite both on the pitch and off it but sits in a league that has struggled to financially compete with some of Europe’s other top tier competitions.
The dire state of the Ligue 1’s media rights landscape has hampered all its sides financially, including PSG.
“If you look at the Deloitte Money League for the 2021-22 season, we were number one for commercial [revenue] and matchday [revenue], and we were number 18 on TV [revenue], and that dragged our average down to number five,” Armstrong explains.
“If we had a similar [TV] deal, or anywhere close to that of the [English] Premier League, we'd be far and away number one, we can't control that.”
The body in charge of the French league structure, the LFP, is currently in the process of tendering the domestic media rights for Ligue 1. The LFP has, however, been unsuccessful thus far in attracting acceptable offers.
In October, the LFP announced that none of the five bidding lots it had tendered for the rights to the top two leagues had their reserve prices met by the deadline, meaning it is now in individual negotiations to try and cobble together a workable broadcast agreement.
It has been reported that the LFP severely overestimated the value of Ligue 1’s rights and its attractiveness to potential buyers, which leaves its constituent clubs in limbo regarding future TV revenues at a time when many of Europe’s other major leagues continue to have TV deals that exceed Ligue 1’s in value.
“We're not going to match the Premier League, that's why we need to grow the things we do control, the sponsorship, merchandising, retail, and stadium revenues,” Armstrong states.
The 48,583-capacity Parc des Princes has been PSG’s home since the 1970s. However, the consensus in and around the club for several years has been that a higher capacity arena is required to maximize its commercial outlook properly.
The club’s stadium revenues exceeded $150 million for the 2022-23 fiscal year, an impressive figure considering the comparatively low stadium capacity relative to other European soccer giants. It’s a feat only recently matched by FC Barcelona, which boasts more than double the Parc des Princes’ capacity at its Camp Nou stadium.
“48,000 is not enough,” Armstrong stresses. “We have the highest revenue per seat in Europe as of last season, and we’ll be there or thereabouts again this season, but we can do a lot more with a bigger stadium and we should be playing in front of 60,000 or 70,000 fans every week.”
There are several options PSG can take to bring the club’s stadium revenues forward, but whether or not the more viable options are preferable is a question that lingers at the club.
“Our clear preference is to redevelop the Parc des Princes, to stay where we are,” Armstrong states unequivocally. “It’s our historic home, it’s where we want to be, where the fans want to be. It's in the city limits of Paris.”
“But it's not dependent just on us. The city needs to be prepared to sell us the building. We have to own the building.”
PSG is currently the holder of a 30-year lease on the Parc Des Princes that runs until 2043, which it agreed with the stadium’s owner, the Paris City Council.
Despite the lack of permanent ownership over the ground, PSG has invested heavily into it, pouring around $85 million into the stadium in 2015 to enhance its hospitality offering. While the club considered that a manageable enough sum to undertake without full ownership given the return on investment, an expansion in the region of 10,000-20,000 seats would be too significant a financial undertaking to take on without fully owning the stadium, according to the club.
With Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo stating her objection to any sale of the Parc des Princes, the club has subsequently been left to look elsewhere.
“We've been forced to look at other options and that's how we see it,” Armstrong admits. “We don't want to move. We want to stay at the Parc des Princes but we have to look and have been looking seriously at other options for the last year.”
PSG does have options in the stadium department. The club has long been rumored to be interested in the purchase of the 81,500 seater Stade de France, the country’s largest stadium, however numerous other parties, including world soccer’s governing body FIFA, are also reportedly interested.
There is also the land PSG owns surrounding Poissy, the club’s new training center. “There’s a chance to make [Poissy] into a real hub,” says Armstrong, adding; “It depends where we end up.”
While the Parc des Princes is surrounded by an urban area that would hamper any massive stadium expansion, Poissy is an open area owned by the club that could be rife for development.
“We still want to stay at the Parc des Princes, and if we do it there, we grow more constrained, but the positives of being in our historical home outweigh any negatives,” Armstrong explains.
Private Equity & Internationalization
PSG recently confirmed that US private equity fund Arctos Partners has taken a stake in the French giants, understood by GlobalData to be around 12.5%.
It had been rumored for a while that the club had been interested in the sale of a minority stake, with Armstrong stating that the investment aims to level up the club commercially.
“These people (Arctos) have a history of investing in sports franchises and have great people within their company, within their advisory board, and we think we can work well together to take the business to the next level,” Armstrong says.
Even Ligue 1 itself has sought private equity investment to raise capital. In 2022, the LFP sold a 13% stake in its media rights subsidiary to CVC Capital Partners, in exchange for €1.5 billion ($1.65 billion).
The deal is reported to heavily favor PSG, with as much as 30% of the league’s annual media rights revenue through the venture set to go to the club. This is a figure that will only truly be understood once the current media rights tender is complete.
“I think it was a good result for French football,” Armstrong states, with QSI executive vice president of corporate affairs David Sugden adding: “First and foremost it stopped the bleeding of when Mediapro collapsed. The domestic broadcaster collapsing left a massive hole in French football finances, so to have the CVC deal immediately gave a benefit to plug a gap.”
Although the competitive bidding process featured private equity firms from across the globe, Armstrong stressed the impact that Arctos’ expertise can have on the club’s attempts to tackle the US, one of its key target markets.
Although PSG has not undertaken a tour of the US since 2017, Armstrong has reiterated the importance the country holds in its strategy, saying: “We would rather go back sooner than later because of the strategic importance especially [with the Arctos investment], with the [PSG] stores there, we have so many partners there.”
The other prominent target market the club has focused on is the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region.
The club has an office in Singapore that manages its operations in the region, with smaller satellite offices in Shanghai, China, and Tokyo, Japan, and aims to open a third in Seoul, South Korea to further its Asian expansion.
Asia has proven a breakout market for PSG with the club securing several deals in the region, powered by the popularity of South Korean superstar Kang-In Lee.
Lee, despite only signing for the club in July 2023, is already the second-biggest jersey seller at the club and has attracted soccer fans to travel to Paris from Korea to see him at games.
“The impact of Kang-In has been phenomenal,” Armstrong illustrates. “Within weeks of his signing, we added a [South] Korean game to our [pre-season] Japanese tour and turned what was already a very lucrative and record-breaking tour into an even better one financially.”
Around 70% of the club’s e-commerce business in July was from Korea, with the new kit released a month prior going on to become their best-selling home jersey ever.
The club is already preparing to open a new store in South Korea in January 2024, to complement its four other global locations, including Tokyo, entrenching its presence in the APAC market and the value its revenue streams hold to such a major club.