OL, Red Star, Valenciennes, Nancy, Saint-Etienne. There are countless French clubs that have just joined a multi-club model or should do so through new investors, often Americans who are already involved in foreign clubs and in particular English. Worrying phenomenon or financial disaster for French football? Explanations with Tim Keech, co-founder of MRKT Insights, a football consulting firm that has participated in the acquisition of European clubs by American investors.
This is primarily due to the fact that the English clubs, which do not have the big 6 resources, are in a dead end. Their best young people travel very early to Manchester City, Chelsea or Liverpool, are then loaned out and mostly never go to play professional in these big clubs. West Ham or Everton must then buy these players, their players, at a high price, for 15-20 million euros. Whereas if they had a partner club in France or Portugal, they could loan their youngsters there, with a promise to give them playing time in a foreign championship and thus keep them. Having a satellite club is one way to create a pool of players. Brexit has also accelerated interest in this model, because with the new points-based work permit, it is very difficult for English clubs, especially in the Championship, to pick up a European player over the age of 21. The multi-club system is the ideal answer to this. You can sign a player at a partner club in the EU while gaining experience, and therefore points, before picking him up in England without spending too much and without fearing that his work permit will be rejected.
“With a good shareholder, you can make Saint-Étienne a club that regularly plays in the Champions League, where in England it is only possible by buying very expensive clubs that already play in European places. »
Are French clubs therefore destined to become satellite clubs in the Premier League and Championship?
What I can tell you is that there are many discussions in this sense and that all English clubs are currently looking at this model and are interested in France, Portugal and Belgium. This multi-club system already exists a little bit in France: Metz with Seraing in Belgium and with the Génération Foot Academy, Marseille with Diambars in Senegal. Except that with the new models being put in place, French clubs will no longer necessarily be the ones at the top of the rankings. However, not all multi-club strategies are the same. There’s City Group with a dominant club and satellite clubs, Red Bull, with clubs sharing all their information on Scout, exchange players and staff, and have the same training methods and the same playing style. And then you have a model that looks like John Textors. He invests in stable clubs with a good economic model, as in Lyon, without necessarily having a majority, because he believes that football is an undervalued industry and that the clubs can gain in value.
Why is France so attractive to investors, especially Americans trying to build a multi-club system?
Firstly because the cost of buying clubs is quite low, around 15-20 million euros for a Ligue 2 club. And with a good shareholder, you can turn Saint-Étienne into a club that regularly plays against the Ligue Champions, where in England this is only possible by buying very expensive clubs that are already playing for European places. So because France has an incredible reserve of talent and an effective training system. Look at Toulouse, which Red Bird has invested in. In two years, they have almost paid the cost of buying the club by selling players. In France, the U16, U17 or U19 internationals are distributed among all Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 clubs, whereas in England almost all of them belong to five or six clubs. France also has a unique connection with young African talents, just as Portugal has with South America. Finally, Americans look at French clubs and think they are undervalued and could easily earn much more.
“Americans believe that European football does not generate enough profit in relation to its media exposure. There is no other industry where you can have 20 pages about your business every day in the local newspapers. »
What makes American investors believe that there is money to be made in French football?
In general, they believe that European football does not generate enough profit in relation to its media exposure. There is no other industry where you can have twenty pages about your business every day in the local newspapers. Whether it’s marketing, partnerships, naming and use of stadiums, jersey sales, branding of the club, everything according to them could be utilized much better financially. And when more clubs are acquired and developed, it is the TV rights that can increase. All this while we have fans who are also customers that we are sure will remain loyal from 7 to 77 years.
Could the resurgence of violence in stadiums and threats against leaders deter some US investors?
You might think so, but investors tell themselves that by respecting the club’s culture and being intelligent in their approach to supporters, they are minimizing this risk. Above all, from the investor’s somewhat cynical point of view, seeing such a passion, such an influence even for the club, makes these fans very loyal customers, and it is therefore something that can be positive from a financial point of view. if we do not alienate them.
How do you explain the persistent rumors of sales to certain clubs, Saint-Étienne, Nantes, Marseille, without ultimately a sale?
You should know that all clubs in the world have a ten-page investment file that explains why this club should be bought and what the price would be. And many middlemen use it to find a buyer who hopes to take 5% commission if the sale is completed while having no mandate. I know that for Saint-Étienne, there were at least twenty sales proposals through intermediaries who promised the potential buyer that they were about to have a mandate. Except that the buyers only offered maybe 50% of the club’s value, and the current managers were not even aware that anyone was trying to sell their club behind their backs.
Interview by Gaétan Mathieu