Since the arrival of QSI at the head of the club in 2011, the board wanted to bring PSG into the exclusive group of the five major European clubs and transform it into a global sports brand. To achieve this, the Qataris have wisely invested in the North American market, so much that the United States is now the second largest PSG market after France in terms of sales. Let us take a glance at a well-executed strategy.
Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, J. Cole, Patrick Dempsey, Josh Norman, Stephen Curry and Carmelo Anthony… More and more American stars are repping the PSG jersey. Some at the request of Nike, others out of sympathy for the club. Either way, each celebrity wearing the Parisian crest is a huge publicity stunt. What other French club can today boast such an aura? None. « I worked for nine months with PSG on a study a year and a half ago, and I can tell you that the club’s development strategy is well established. It’s highly professional and very solid, » explains Frank Pons, director of the International Observatory in Sport Management at Laval University, Canada, « I know that sometimes fans don’t like it, but they have to understand that today if you want to be known internationally, if you want to be proud that people are wearing your shirt, your club must have a business culture. The English understood this a long time ago, whereas in France it is a little difficult to integrate it. »
A ripe market
Already a pioneer of this business philosophy when they took over Paris-Saint-Germain in 2011, QSI quickly focused their attention on the very important US market. « North America is a very interesting, well developed market, where there is a lot of visibility, notoriety and reliability to look for, » says Frank, a Frenchman of origin but now based in North America, where he specializes in advertising sports the American way. « The tendency to spend is truly different from that in Europe. There, people spend much more money on shirts, brands or sports-related events. You have no education to do at this level, the understanding of sport business has been there for a long time and is perfectly accepted. « Nowadays, at the club, nearly one in five sponsors of the Parisian club is American: Nike, Coca-Cola, McDonald, American Express, and the video game publisher EA. Moreover, the United States is the largest buyer of PSG merch online and is the second largest PSG market after France in terms of sales. Finally, according to soccer.com, PSG is the top selling Champions League club in California, Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington State.
Les clubs de Ligue des Champions qui vendent le plus de maillots aux Etats-Unis par état
Le #PSG domine en Californie, Texas, Alabama, Caroline du Nord, Pennsylvanie, Maryland et Washington DC
— Le Meilleur du PSG (@LMDPSG) October 23, 2018
While the American market is profitable, it is nevertheless difficult to conquer. Nike is a testament of credibility, but PSG do not have a sufficiently strong sporting history like Real Madrid or FC Barcelona, who have been based in North America for a long time. It is therefore through other means that the club must seduce and develop across the Atlantic, such as signing David Beckham in January 2013 for a 5-month contract. The 37-year-old English midfielder had just finished his MLS (Major League Soccer) contract in Los Angeles Galaxy, and was looking for « one last challenge » before retiring and returning to the United States, where he would have the contractual opportunity to own one of the North American League’s franchisees in Miami in 2020. A godsend for PSG, whose notoriety in the United States made a spectacular breakthrough with the signature of the « Spice boy ». After Zlatan and before Neymar, Beckham’s arrival was the « glamorous » card, the charming element that could seduce the American public.
In 2015, PSG “physically” moved to the North American continent by opening a PSG academy in Montreal, Quebec. Representing the club, academies give credibility to the PSG brand. On one hand, the club develops its reputation and shows that it is among the elite, and on the other hand, it maintains its public relations by embodying the values of elegance, excellence and respect associated with Paris. « Montreal is a key gateway for PSG in North America because there are many French expatriates. The strong cultural affinities and links between France and the Belle Province are important factors, » says Frank Pons. In the meantime, the club opened two more academies on the East Coast of the United States, in Miami then in New York, where PSG recently opened an office on May 22, 2018. Led by Jérôme de Chaunac, General Manager of the American continent, the PSG New York office ensures a permanent geographical presence in the United States, enables better quality control of the academies, ensuring that the PSG brand is well represented, and cultivates links with the various supporters of the club.
Parisian fans on fire in the Saputo Stadium during the 2015 Champions Trophy in Montreal, against Lyon. @ PSG Club Montreal
Clubs of supporters
Also in 2015, on August 1, Paris-Saint-Germain took advantage of the Trophée des Champions played at Stade Saputo in Montreal against Olympique Lyonnais (2-0 victory) to assess its reputation in Quebec, and it was a success. With a strong presence in Saputo, Parisian supporters of the PSG Club Montréal (a Montreal-based association of Paris-Saint-Germain supporters) made their voices heard to the point of impressing Montreal’s Quebec Mayor Denis Coderre, in the stands for the occasion. There are already 10 fan clubs in America (Washington, Seattle, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, Montreal, New York, North Carolina, Miami), some of which have a significant digital presence in the region, with millions of fans active on social networks (the PSG Club Montreal Facebook page has over 470,000 members). For Frank Pons, these fan clubs are very important because they allow the development of the « grassroots », a strategy with which the club strengthens its links with local fan communities, thus promoting its establishment in the region concerned. « Grassroots is widely used in North America. The club is trying to connect with local fan communities to create a closer relationship with expatriate PSG supporters but also with people who love PSG internationally. »
The « Grassroots » also takes place by organizing three summer tours in the United States, in 2015 (New York), 2016 (Los Angeles) and 2017 (Miami) for a series of promotional events and friendlies, as part of the International Champions Cup, a pre-season tournament that brings many of Europe’s top teams together. « Your identity, people must be able to touch it. Americans, you can’t come and see them every month, so occasionally you have to cultivate your commitment by organizing a very intense event! This is what summer tours are for, they foster your local engagement, and they develop your market by targeting people who have already heard of you and who have the opportunity to come and see you. » For example, in 2016, before the match against Inter Milan in Eugene, Oregon, the club organized a treasure hunt in the city’s streets, with match tickets and PSG shirts on the line. Fan zones were also set up around the stadiums where PSG played their three matches. Players are also eager to stay long minutes after training sessions to sign autographs for fans. A recipe that works rather well since, according to L’Équipe, the various commercial and promotional activities during this tour have raised no less than five million euros for PSG. Not to mention the tens of thousands of American fans won on Facebook.
An exceptional collaboration with Jordan
Icing on the cake on September 13, when Parisian President Nasser Al-Khelaifi announced the signing of an exclusive three-year sponsorship agreement between PSG and the American clothing brand Jordan, a Nike affiliate. For the first time in the history of football, two trend-setting sports brands create an exclusive clothing collection. This season, the famous « Jumpman » is appearing on the European home and away shirts of Paris Saint-Germain. This extraordinary partnership should bring in nearly €100 million for PSG, and give a huge boost to its popularity. « The idea of this partnership is that two incredible brands are coming together. That’s how it’s sold in North America and that’s how it should be sold in Europe, says Frank Pons. What PSG does with this partnership is to break the barrier of the sport. Nike aren’t associating their brands randomly. Combining PSG and Jordan, two brands with such a high level of achievement on and off the pitch, offers huge market potential and reach. Can you imagine how many people in the world know the Jordan logo and brand? For PSG to be associated with this means having access to an incredible global market. »
A few days before the partnership was made official, in the Spanish radio programme « El Matí de Catalunya Ràdio », the new owner of Spanish football rights, Jaumes Roures, mentioned the idea of relocating a Champions League final to New York: « We will soon see a Champions League final outside Europe. New York would be exceptional. It’s something that’s being studied.” Yeah, well, what about winning a Champions League in New York? This could be the real American dream of PSG.