8:00 a.m., August 3, 2022
The web stretches, and this movement seems inevitable. The proliferation of takeovers of French clubs by foreign investors is coupled with another phenomenon: timeshare tends to become the norm. The last five operations observed in France follow this logic. This year alone, Red Star joined the Florida fund 777 Partners, involved in four other structures around the world, and Olympique Lyonnais that of American businessman John Textor, which extends from England to Brazil.
As it stands, 11 clubs from the top three divisions are affected, linked to 36 other entities around the world. And so it’s not over. « We are at the dawn of a new era and timeshare is part of it », asks CNRS research director Luc Arrondel, author of L’Argent du football. “It will happen more and more”, abounds Antoine Gobin, president of Waasland-Beveren in Belgium. This 30-year-old Frenchman is in the front row: his club belongs to the galaxy of David Blitzer.
PSG is looking for a satellite club to allow its young people to get tough
Owner or shareholder of four franchises in the United States, including the Philadelphia 76 ers in the NBA (basketball), this New Jersey investor has also invested in English football (Crystal Palace), German (Augsburg), Spanish (Alcorcón), Dutch (ADO Den Haag) and Portuguese (Estoril). France ? He was in advanced negotiations with AS Saint-Étienne, but the deal would have fallen through. At RC Lens – his name circulates – or elsewhere, his incursion is on the agenda.
Soon, other French clubs should incorporate the circle of multi-owners. Starting with Paris Saint-Germain, which – it’s a sea serpent – is looking for a satellite club to allow its young people to get tough (Espanyol de Barcelona? Braga?). Like AS Monaco with Cercle Bruges for five years. A large displacement offering an annex abroad: it is an old strategy. But timeshare goes beyond that. Its reality is not uniform, including in approach.
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Not much in common, for example, between Ineos at OGC Nice and Core Sports Capital at Clermont Foot 63, despite the two being affiliated with one club. On the Côte d’Azur, the English petrochemical giant has enriched its sports offer (washing), which includes cycling, sailing and F1. In football, billionaire Jim Ratcliffe’s group had invested in Lausanne Sport before Nice, which had a partnership in Abidjan. The OGCN has become the bridgehead of a project set to expand: the takeover of the Portuguese club Feirense would be negotiated around 5 million euros.
Three clubs relegated
In Auvergne, the company of the Swiss Ahmet Schaefer has forged alliances which have “a sporting consistency”. Very quickly, Core Sports Capital took shares in Austrian (Lustenau) and Danish (Vendsyssel) second division clubs to lend young people there, attract foreigners or relaunch careers. The failure of Mediapro and then the health crisis forced a reduction in operations: Vendsyssel was sold, other projects interrupted. But this year, Lustenau was promoted and Clermont held on with an enticing game.
A balance sheet which NewCity Capital, of the Sino-American Chien Lee, and Pacific Media Group, of the Englishman Paul Conway cannot claim. Three of the seven clubs in their herd were relegated in May, including Barnsley and AS Nancy-Lorraine, who fell to the third national level. Not really an advertisement for the youthfulness of the leaders and the algorithms guiding their sports policy. Buying undervalued players with resale prospects has its limits; in another style, more « financial acrobat »Gérard Lopez (Girondins de Bordeaux) can testify.
It’s hard to be in two clubs at the same time
Gauthier Ganaye, the Frenchman who chairs Nancy and Ostend, withdrew “a lesson from it all” : “It is difficult to be in two clubs at the same time”, according to his remarks reported by the Guardian. “Internal synergy, which is a simple cost reduction”, yet it is one of Paul Conway’s four arguments in favor of the model. The other three being commercial synergy, which makes it possible to increase the sales force, uniformity of strategy, which « mitigates the risk » bad decisions, and performance related to football, « from having the right place to nurture the right talent to keeping transfer fees within the family. »
The boss of the Pacific Media Group was not talking about his clubs but the City Football Group (CFG), as part of a survey by The Athletic in 2020. The Abu Dhabi juggernaut has « Disneylandized » the concept of timeshare. Two years ago, Troyes joined the constellation revolving around Manchester City; Bahia (Brazil) could be added.
To understand the roots, you have to delve into Executive Director Ferran Soriano’s book, Goal: The Ball Doesn’t Go In by Chance, published in 2011. The argument? The clubs will become global brands, the creation of franchises abroad will participate. Originally, all had a common identity (colors, logos, etc.). By penetrating historic markets, the priority has changed. Some clubs are made to play leading roles, others become development platforms. “Look how many talents come from Belgium and France,continued Paul Conway. In the past, Manchester City spent 2 million euros on a player in training, but now they have just bought Lommel for the same amount. »
To take control of a club without assets playing in National, 777 Partners invested 11 million euros (plus 8 potential). But with the Red Star, he is betting on the Ile-de-France reservoir. The strategy is “based on strong youth academies and the use of data and analytics” , said a spokesperson for the 777 Football Group. Training is obviously the French touch. In Châteauroux, the Saudi structure based in Switzerland United World was looking for « a club without debt and with a performing centre »,we say on the side of La Berrichonne. Upon his arrival, John Textor praised Lyon’s academy and youth development. What the other hydra in the sector, Red Bull, has industrialized since the 2000s.
The Austrian giant is also an illustration of the underlying ethical questions. In 2017, Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig qualified for the Champions League. However, since 1997 and the Enic case – which owned Slavia Prague, AEK Athens and Tottenham – UEFA has prohibited clubs belonging to the same natural or legal person from participating together in European competitions. For Red Bull, the body was finally settled with its own rules. Contacted, UEFA refers to its article 5 which addresses the issue. Yet, in the face of the capitalist entanglement, above and belown, “a new regulation seems inevitable”according to economist Luc Arrondel.
Bubble or godsend
Italy had to legislate last summer. Promoted to Serie A, Salernitana had the same owner as Lazio Rome (Claudio Lotito). All European countries more or less outlaw timeshare within their borders. France, by the law of July 16, 1984. But the changing context calls for vigilance. Take David Blitzer, who was to buy Saint-Étienne. He is a shareholder of Crystal Palace (18%). Just like John Textor, new strongman of the Lyon enemy. This would not have failed to challenge. In Belgium, where the two Americans have set foot, the media have pointed to a potential conflict of interest.
“Overall, questions arise” , admits this international leader. Ray transfers, in particular. A year ago, Nancy circumvented the recruitment ban imposed by the National Management Control Department by using Ostend as a transit platform. This summer, Troyes bought Savinho for a record sum (6.5 million + 6 bonus). The young Brazilian was then loaned to PSV Eindhoven. He may never play in Aube, but hope is now in the lap of the CFG, which has at the same time dodged regulatory burdens.
Another risk is that of driving up prices. « As in the days of the Internet bubble, portrays Luc Arrondel, we buy several mid-level clubs hoping that one will come out of the lot, capital gain at stake. »With an appetite for the French market due to its low valuation. For Luc Dayan too, the motivations are speculative. “By investing in this way, e explains this specialist in club restructuring, you become a multi-owner of player contracts. However, the sale of players remains the only source of income generating capital gains. »
It is precisely because « the current mode of operation does not work » that need “find alternative solutions”, argues Antoine Gobin, the president of Beveren: “The goal is to no longer do like 95% of clubs who lose money before transfers. »For an average city, « It’s a gift from heaven to be able to enter into such a system » , we continue in Châteauroux. Red Star supporters disagree. If 777 Football Group « is committed to maintaining traditions »,suburban fans, with values anchored on the left, are struggling to digest. The loss of identity, on which funds often sit to expand the customer base, is not only a concern in Saint-Ouen. In the Netherlands, NAC Breda supporters recently sealed a deal with City Football Group.