From the moment Paris Saint-Germain were taken over by Oryx Qatar Sports Investment (QSi), the objective was clear: build PSG into a side capable of dominating the French league and winning the Champions League. Fast-forward six years and French domination has been secured, but Champions League success remains elusive.
The arrivals of established superstar Neymar, emerging superstar Kylian Mbappé, and legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon have all served to raise hope that this can finally be the season in which Les Parisiens overcome their quarter-final hoodoo.
An extension of Parisian society
Even with the star-studded line-up PSG can field every game, recent talk has all centred around off-field developments. As part of their development as a trendy brand that is more than just a football club, PSG have signed a deal with Jordan, the subsidiary of Nike created for NBA legend Michael Jordan, with the brand supplying PSG’s kit during the Champions League this season.
It is all part of PSG’s attempt to capitalise on its perfect location for building a media brand that embodies more than just a football club. It is about becoming an extension of the culture and society existing within Paris. As a leading fashion city, Paris will always attract a crowd of the latest celebrity names and, aside from Chanel and Louis Vuitton amongst others, the owners of PSG aim to have the Parc des Princes as a must-stop destination for visitors to Paris.
Jordan’s link to Paris has only been growing stronger in recent years. Back in 2016, Jordan Bastille opened in Paris, the first European store of the Jordan brand. A year later and the Jordan Brand had become the official uniform suppliers of the French Basketball Federation. The potential collaboration with PSG grew even stronger earlier this year when Justin Timberlake appeared on stage wearing a jacket emblazoned with the PSG badge, with the Eiffel Tower replaced by the iconic “Jumpman” logo.
Joining the Super Clubs?
The Jordan brand is one of the most easily recognisable brands in the world and is one the leading brands in America and China, arguably the two most important markets for brand growth. Nasser Al-Khelaifi, President of PSG, aims to have the Parisian club competing with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United as leading football clubs, both on and off the pitch.
Those three clubs, with the possible addition of Bayern Munich and Juventus, are football’s super clubs. They achieve consistent on-field success, attract the highest profile players, and are a world-renowned names. Becoming commercially successful has become a vital part of football in recent years, with the introduction of the International Champions Cup every pre-season designed to explore developing football markets and allow clubs to grow their fanbases in those areas.
PSG’s association with Jordan is specifically tailored to turn the quintet into a half dozen and allow PSG to be recognisable as more than a football club. If the Paris based club can successfully market themselves as a high-profile brand and more than just a football club, they could draw on a larger crowd than almost all teams in the world. Celebrity names would continue to be spotted in the seats of the Parc des Princes, and they would be able to exploit the fact that they are the only notable football team in one of Europe’s most populated and visited cities.
The Jordan-PSG link also represents a shifting of the priorities of their Qatari owners. Success as a football team has been synonymous with PSG since their takeover, winning the French title in five of the seven seasons they have been under Qatari ownership. The one title eluding them has been the most coveted one of all: the Champions League.
Not for lack of trying, PSG have never been able to progress further than the quarter-finals. In there first season back in the Champions League, 2011-12, they reached the quarters, losing on away goals after a 3-3 draw with Barcelona. The following season they reached the same stage and lost in the same circumstances to Chelsea. A third consecutive quarter-final saw a rematch with Barcelona, but they were comfortably dispatched 5-1 on aggregate. Manchester City were their opponents at the same stage in 2015-16, winning 3-2 on aggregate.
2016-17 seemed to be the turning point for PSG. Drawing Barcelona in the Round of 16 brought trepidation, but a resounding 4-0 victory in Paris brought optimism. Much has been written about the second leg, with Barcelona winning 6-1, with three goals coming after the 88th minute, securing a remarkable 6-5 victory. An uninspiring 5-2 defeat against eventual champions Real Madrid last season saw them fall at the Round of 16 stage again.
Neymar and Mbappé were both brought to the French capital to help overcome this hurdle. Their signings highlight the extent to which the owners of PSG are willing to go in order to achieve their goal of becoming Champions of Europe. The partnership with Jordan reflects a change in approach.
Building an institution
Great teams come and go in football. Monaco’s improbable run to the Ligue 1 title and Champions League semi-finals in 2016-17, Porto’s unlikely triumph in 2004, and Bayer Leverkusen’s final appearance in 2001/02 are just a few examples of strong teams making deep European runs. These teams are very rarely able to sustain their success as their stars are often cherry-picked by the bigger sides. Leverkusen’s star Michael Ballack left to join Bayern Munich, Porto’s Paulo Ferreira and Ricardo Carvalho followed manager José Mourinho to Chelsea, and PSG’s own Mbappé was poached because of his starring role for Monaco.
You can build a good team on a football pitch. It will bring fans into the stadium, play a good style of football, and either win trophies regularly or overachieve above their respective means. Every season offers a new club that appears to fit this mould. This is a great method of achieving short-term success.
The owners of PSG are not interested in short-term success. They want to build an institution. To capitalise on the ideal location in which they find themselves. Nasser Al-Khelaifi wants PSG to become a brand. A lifestyle choice. The aim is to have the PSG logo visible all across the world, like those of Europe’s true super-clubs. The “Jumpan” is one of the most recognisable logos in the world, and PSG want to see their newly branded Jordan logo as visible as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, or even Chicago Bulls logos that emblazon baseball caps in almost every country.
PSG are not simply set-up to win games of football against Europe’s elite. They have been created to challenge them as business models and global brands. The collaboration with Jordan is the latest step in creating a sustainable brand of football to occupy the vast market that Paris offers. PSG may lack the storied history of their rivals, but they are here to stay and won’t be settling for second best, on or off the field.