Paris Saint-Germain is not the first club that comes to mind when talking about innovation in football. Since the Qatar Sports Investment takeover in 2011, the team from the French capital has the reputation of ‘buying’ the game. But PSG is lacking something: legacy. Not having the history of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Manchester United has resulted in a different approach to creating a global brand. This is a story about fashion, hip hop, Michael Jordan, but also about dubious money. Ici, c’est Paris.
Paris. The city of the Mona Lisa, the Champs-Élysées, and the Eifel Tower. A global center for art, fashion, and culture. And home of Paris Saint-Germain, the fastest growing football club on the planet.
In 2011, Qatar Sports Investments took over at the Parc des Princes, and things started changing rapidly. Ever since, the club has been criticised for its money-splashing. In many fans’ opinions, the legitimacy to have the game’s finest has to be earned by creating a footballing legacy, not by wealthy owners. But the investment has paid off for the Qatari. Seven league titles and 25 domestic trophies, before reaching the Champions League final this season.
The PSG Lifestyle brand
Les Parisiens started realising that to become one of these big global brands, they would have to invent their own legitimacy. PSG discovered the unique chance of identifying them with their city, allowing them to create an authentic lifestyle brand, both connected with fashion and hip-hop culture.
Brand Diversification Director Fabien Allegre describes it as following: “PSG is for passionate people, who are not just going to the football game, but are also interested in all sorts of culture; such as art, music and fashion.”
This allows them to tap into markets previously undiscovered by football clubs. In 2018, PSG appeared on the catwalk via their collaboration with fashion designer Christelle Kocher, after which these designs were worn by Beyoncé and Rita Ora. Their strategy makes them one of the only big teams that’s actively trying to reach female audiences with such campaigns.
PSG x Jordan
Furthermore, defining their own identity means they can look at the DNA of brands to create more fitting sponsorships.
To strengthen their status as one of the world’s biggest clubs, PSG has been investigating other geographical areas, such as North America and Asia.
In 2018, PSG engaged in a collaboration with Japanese streetwear brand A Bathing Ape, reinforcing both their presence in the East and their connection with hip-hop culture.
But the collab that really made jaws drop came later that year. After earlier visits and endorsements of NBA-stars like Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, PSG announced to take their basketball connection a step further: Air Jordan became their kit supplier in the Champions League for the next three seasons. The PSG partnership thus became the first foray out of basketball for Michael Jordan’s iconic brand.
The deal goes a lot further than that. In the United States, Air Jordan has long been the bridge between sportswear and lifestyle, and that’s exactly what PSG wants to become. More than 100 products across performance, training and lifestyle: exactly what PSG needed to make their brand even trendier.
And the club has got their next market in sight: China. In 2019, the French Champions organised their very own Paris-style ‘All Fashion Show’, to launch their Jordan x PSG collection. Talks are ongoing to increase their foothold in the world’s most populous country.
As a result, Paris has become a popular stopping-off point for celebrities like Kendall Jenner, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Rihanna, Macklemore and David Beckham. The club claims no one is ‘asked’ to come over, that it happens organically, because otherwise there wouldn’t be authenticity. Supporting PSG just seems to have become a status symbol for the stars of showbusiness.
Making a brand with a strong feeling of belonging is not easy without the history other football behemoths have, so fair play to the branding department. PSG have clearly decided on a different strategy than their rivals, but it’s important to not lose sight of their eventual end goal, which is making money.
No matter how innovating and rebellious their marketing strategies are, they still remain, well, fuel for their money-making machine. The Air Jordan collab wouldn’t have gone through if it didn’t increase sales with 470% for PSG in the US of A. Their presence on the catwalk, wouldn’t have existed if it didn’t mean entering a billion-dollar market.
And the origins of the oil money backing the club are dubious. Human rights, slavery and corruption accusations against Qatar leave a bad taste for anyone involved with PSG. In 2022, Qatar will be organising the first World Cup ever in the Middle East, but the whole enterprise is covered in blood. Unpaid migrants are left to go hungry; workers are treated like cattle. According to The Guardian analyses, 4000 people would have died by the time of the 2022 event. After all the criticism, Qatar Foundation were obliged to blacklist several contractors, and the Ministry of Labour required that employees should be paid by electronic transfers.
It’s hard to say how big of a role Qatar’s foreign football operations have in all this, but both FIFA and PSG are at the very least facilitating this exploitation.
Despite the branding and marketing department’s huge efforts, PSG are failing to create an environment which benefits both club and society. Will they ever be able to secure the neutral fan’s backing this way?