Since the turn of the new millennium, football witnessed the emergence of billionaire owners. From Roman Abramovic’s takeover at Chelsea in 2003 to Abu Dhabi United Group’s purchase of Manchester City in 2008, rich foreign owners became the new trend.
And yet, when Qatar Sports Investments landed in Paris in 2011, they completely changed the landscape of the sport. Never minding the fact that the Ligue 1 was reduced to a mere sideshow in the past few decades, the new owners were adamant on building a footballing empire in the heart of the French capital.
Seeing Zlatan Ibrahimovic posing with a Paris Saint Germain jersey in front of the Eiffel Tower was a shocking scene back in 2012. Nonetheless, the middle eastern owners were far from done, and we later saw the jaw-dropping arrivals of the likes of Neymar and Kylian Mbappé in 2017.
But perhaps the most astonishing spending spree in the history of the sport was the one witnessed in the summer of 2021. With the vast majority of the top European clubs vastly suffering from the economic consequences of Covid-19, PSG were signing one major star after the other. From Sergio Ramos to Achraf Hakimi and Gianluigi Donnarumma, everyone was flying to Paris… including a certain Lionel Messi.
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So how were PSG able to spend so much money in 2021? How could they afford Messi while Barcelona couldn’t? How do they earn money? And are they indebted?
Let’s try to figure out the dynamics behind one magical summer in Paris.
How Can PSG Spend So Much?
Paris Saint Germain are owned by Qatar Sport Investments (QSI), a company that is directly linked to the royal family of Qatar, which renders them one of the richest clubs in the world, and thus, they’re able to spend vast amount of cash to land the biggest names in football.
In a previous study, we examined the reasons that could prompt rich businessmen to buy football clubs. While some of the owners hope to make a profit from a future resale perhaps, QSI don’t fall into this category. Instead, the company’s objective – as well as the state of Qatar – is to make a major statement on the worldwide level.
As a small nation in the Arabic gulf, the royal family had to pull off some major achievements to put the country on the map. And between a winning World Cup bid and owning a major European club, football appears to be the ticket that buys them access to the big scene.
Understanding the true intentions of the PSG owners is important in this study, as it can partially explain how the Ligue 1 side is always ready to pounce for the signature of every major star on the market.
Now surely the UEFA Financial Fair Play regulations can throw some hurdles in their path, but whenever the ambitious owners want to buy a new player, they will tell themselves that they need to make it happen one way or the other. This is a completely different approach from the one adopted by the majority of the other owners, who are much more cautious when it comes to overstretching their balance.
In short, QSI is always willing to step in and cover the losses suffered by the club, as explained by AFP (via Bolavip.com) which were estimated to be 230 million euros in 2020/21, due to the pandemic, and 124.9 million euros before taxes during the 2019/20 season.
How Can PSG Afford Messi but Barca Can’t?
After the expiry of his contract by the end of the 2020/21 season, Messi agreed to sign a new deal at Barcelona, but the club was unable to register the new contract due to the Salary Cap regulations imposed by the Spanish football federation. On the other hand, the French football federation delayed its own Salary Cap rule until 2023/24, freeing PSG’s hand.
To say that the financial consequences of Covid-19 were a game changer would be a major understatement in this case. In 2020, Barcelona’s wage bill was the highest in the world at 443 million euros, with the Argentine star earning a whooping 75 millions per season.
But following the worldwide pandemic, the club’s already shaky financials took a major hit, as the revenue dramatically decreased in the absence of the Camp Nou crowd. Moreover, the local federation’s Salary Cap rules meant that the club must lower their wage-bill in accordance with the the diminished revenues.
Although the player and the club both made some economic sacrifices, the numbers didn’t add up, and the Blaugrana were simply unable to free enough space on their wage-bill to make room for Messi’s salary – even though the player willingly reduced it by 50%.
On the other hand, all the circumstances played in the Parisians’ favor. With the French federation delaying the application of their Salary Cap rule (which will prevent the clubs from having a wage-bill that exceeds 70% of their revenues), and UEFA also deciding to soften their FFP stance this season to give the financially suffering clubs a breather while they’re still facing the severe consequences of the pandemic, PSG found a clear path and a perfect timing to pull off their biggest coup yet.
How Do PSG Make Money?
Since QSI’s takeover in 2011, PSG mainly relied on their rich owners to provide them with the cash needed to upgrade their squad year after year. But due to FFP rules, the club had to find new source of incomes, and managed to broker several lucrative sponsorship deals.
The Parisians have a deal with Nike that runs until 2032, and provides them with 80 millions per season according to Bolavip.com, as well as other deals with sponsors like ALL Accor Live Limitless, for 65 million euros until 2022 and Air Jordan for 67 million euros until 2022. However, some observers still suspect QSI to be the invisible hand behind some of these deals, as a way to navigate around the FFP rules that prevent them from injecting money directly into the club.
Moreover, the arrival of superstars like Messi and Ramos has surely boosted their merchandise sales, putting them high on the list of the most profitable clubs in European football.
Are PSG in Debt?
According to Swiss Ramble in August 2021, PSG are one of the few European clubs who don’t have external debt. The club’s debt is exclusively internal, as their owning company (QSI) loaned them 197 million euros.
As we explained above, FFP regulations prevented owners from injecting cash into the club as freely as they used to. Therefore, a loan can be be perceived as an indirect way for QSI to boost the club financially while navigating around the rules.
So technically speaking, the Parisians are debt-free, as their owners would surely be willing to reschedule the debt and delay its payment as long as they can pass under the FFP radars.
Even if we put aside the fact that it’s an internal loan, PSG’s debt is relatively low when compared with the other clubs. The table below shows the amount of debt for every top European side following the 2019/20 season, again according to Swiss Rumble.
These numbers partially explain why the French club is happy to maintain the Status-Quo in European football, while other financially struggling sides are hoping to change the sport’s landscape, as proven by the European Super League project announced in April 2021.
However, these figures were prior to the 2020/21 season, where the clubs further suffered by playing behind closed doors, and also preceded the incredible spending spree conducted by the club in the summer of 2021.
PSG pounced on a golden opportunity, with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations taking a backseat temporarily, and the French Football Federation also delaying the application of its impending Salary Cap rules.
However, the Ligue 1 giants must work in advance on regulating their finances, because sooner or later, their care-free economical approach will get them red-flagged, and if they don’t balance their budget in compliance with the upcoming rules, they will find themselves facing a rare problem that money can’t solve.