HOW DO you improve the finances of a football club that has almost everything? And why is Paris Saint-Germain’s (PSG) signing of Lionel Messi so important to the French club?
Since PSG joined the elite, they have craved credibility from the football world. They have excelled at being soft power brokers. They have money, they have influence – Qatar has been building-up kudos with FIFA for years, despite the politics and World Cup scandal. Moreover, PSG’s capture of Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and now Messi demonstrates that, if the will is there, they can scoop-up any player they wish. They can also hire and fire the best coaches and enjoy the luxury of being impatient owners, dispensing with the services of anyone if their success does not appear to be instantaneous.
PSG do not need Messi to win all the domestic trophies available to them, they probably don’t need Neymar and Mbappé, either. To have all three just means PSG will score bucketloads of goals, win all the silverware and maintain a comfortable distance between themselves and their nearest French rivals. It may be something of an embarrassment if double figure wins become a feature of the new MNM forward line, but from Ligue 1’s perspective, the league suddenly looks more commercially attractive.
But how will Messi’s gold-plated arrival impact PSG’s finances? There’s a lot of nonsense circulating about shirt sales paying for his contract. Such comments are far removed from the truth, because PSG are tied to a very long-term deal with Nike which gives them a 15% cut in sales, therefore even a million Messi shirts would yield only a fraction of the player’s contract. They will still move off the shelves like gold dust, though, as the initial sale saw 150,000 Messi shirts sold-out within seven minutes.
As for attendances, PSG at the Parc de Princes already have a stadium utilisation rate of 99%, so Messi is barely going to make a difference in terms of basic matchday income. It will return PSG to their 2019 levels of £ 116 million and beyond, but unless ticket prices increase or a new tier to the stadium is built, PSG do not have the scope to leap ahead in this stream.
Commercially, PSG have the chance to attract more big money sponsors and partners. Messi will act as a magnet for big corporates worldwide – he is one of the two biggest footballer brands in the world, after all, with 240 million followers on Instagram. Although PSG may have limited upside at the moment, Messi did account for 80% of all of Barcelona’s shirt sales and made around € 30 million per year for the club. PSG have already benefitted from signing Messi in the social media world, adding 850,000 new followers on Instagram and 200,000 on Facebook.
PSG’s commercial revenues are healthy without Messi’s arrival – in 2019-20, they generated € 284 million and pre-pandemic, their revenues topped € 300 million per year. PSG’s president, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, claims the world will be “shocked” by the potential of the transaction.
PSG are already a big draw for broadcasters even though French football has big issues over the loss of their last deal, but PSG’s media income does depend on how successful they are on the pitch. In 2019-20, their broadcasting revenues totalled € 217 million, but they did reach the UEFA Champions League final in that campaign.
And this is really why PSG signed Messi, to finally capture the Champions League. He last won the trophy in 2015 and has lifted it four times in his career. PSG, for all their home market success, covet the Champions League more than any other accolade, and so far it has eluded them, which must frustrate the club’s owners after providing all the cash for the project. The pressure will be on coach Mauricio Pochettino to deliver with the tools he has been given, and who can blame his employers as he has three of the world’s best players in his line-up.
How can PSG avoid Financial Fair Play hurdles? In its old form, FFP has been put on hold and two seasons (2019-20/2020-21) are being used to judge each club’s situation. In this strange environment, owners can also inject cash which surely gives the likes of PSG and Manchester City an advantage. In addition, France’s wage-to-income ratio of 70% has been suspended until 2023-24. It is feasible that the Messi deal could not have gone ahead without this convenient window of opportunity.
PSG have been trying to get the player since Qatar rolled into Paris, but the only danger is that old foe, age. Messi is 34, no matter how brilliant he can be, injuries take longer to heal and energy starts to evaporate. PSG are staking a lot on a veteran, albeit a special, other-worldly individual, but they will do well to provision for the unexpected. At Messi’s prices, PSG may also be advised to invest in a cotton-wool company.