Posted on October 28, 2012

Long an underwhelming alsoran of European soccer, underloved by almost everyone but the French, France’s top league has entered what seems a new era, one of eye-popping salaries and international attention. Behind the lift is Qatar.

This year, Qatar Sports Investments, a branch of the country’s sovereign wealth fund, completed a buyout of Paris Saint-Germain, the French soccer club known as PSG, that reportedly valued the club at $130 million. With an additional investment of an estimated $340 million — a number unheard of in French soccer — the team has recruited more than 15 players from the top ranks of international soccer, including the Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose $21 million salary set a record in France.

The team’s budget is up 100 percent from last year, to $392 million, more than twice that of any other club in the league. PSG’s new slogan seems an apt summation of the Qatari approach to French soccer: “Dream Bigger.” The Qataris want to transform PSG into a club that will challenge Europe’s best and most extravagantly financed teams. Analysts say that aspiration aligns nicely with Qatar’s efforts to promote its national brand, especially ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

PSG, those analysts suggest, could serve as a sort of international billboard. French commentators have been sceptical of the spending, though, not least because PSG is only one of a slew of recent Qatari acquisitions in France. Last year, Qatar Sports Investments purchased the PSG handball team and stocked its roster with top international talent. Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund also has considerable holdings in several of France’s largest corporations, and since the French government has offered tax exemptions for Qatari real estate investments here, Qataris have accumulated a fleet of luxury properties valued at almost $4 billion.

The country has also invested heavily in French television, the financial lifeblood of soccer here. Al-Jazeera Sports this year started two French channels under the name beIN Sport, upending the traditional order of televised soccer in France.

For a reported $430 million per year, beIN Sport purchased live broadcast rights for 80 percent of matches in France’s top league, Ligue 1, as well as the rights to most Europa League and Champions League matches.

BeIN Sport has assembled a stable of well-known commentators and personalities, including several who were plucked from Canal Plus, the network that long held a near monopoly on televised French soccer.

Outside analysts contend that, if money is little object, the PSG soccer club represents a particularly prime investment. ‘’Qatar is a smart little country,” said Lars Haue-Pedersen, managing director at TSE Consulting, which has worked for several years for Qatar’s Olympic committee. “If I had to give them 30-second advice, I would say: Where is the market less developed than the big markets? France.” Ligue 1 “has always been a nice league but not the highest level,” Haue-Pedersen said, adding that it was probably the European league with the “most potential.” ‘’By buying into European soccer, you are buying a marketing platform, of course, and a very attractive marketing platform,” he said. “And Paris is Paris, you know,” an ideal city for soliciting potential investors.

In an emailed statement, the PSG president confirmed that “the location of the club in Paris, a leading capital of world, was very important” in the decision to purchase the team. Though PSG had a slow start to the season, the team is now the clear favourite to win Ligue 1, and it is expected to be a contender in future Champions League and Europa League competitions, prestigious tournaments in which French teams have rarely had much success.

“In five years, PSG is going to clobber everyone,” said Jacques Vendroux, the director of sports coverage for France’s public radio stations. French soccer “needs to have a great club, needs to make people dream,” Vendroux said. A French club has won the Champions League only once in nearly 60 years, he noted.

Vendroux deplored what he called a lack of ambition among many French teams, and a sort of jealous xenophobia toward the Qataris. “We keep things amongst ourselves with our little clubs, with our little second division,” Vendroux said, adding, “Let’s open ourselves to the world!”


source: Qatar Tribune

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