For the past two years, France’s Ligue 1 has been making more and more headlines and reminding people of its existence.
This has mainly been thanks to the millions being poured into capital club Paris Saint-Germain by beneficiaries Qatar Sports Investments since 2011.
Earlier this year, PSG were re-joined in Le Championnat by AS Monaco who won the Ligue 2 title after two seasons in the wilderness of the second tier. That promotion, however, has signalled the arrival of a second mega-rich side to the top-fight title race with ambitions of making an impact on the European stage, too.
Both have arguably already done this.
PSG have made a splash in each of the last five transfer windows, but also on the pitch in the Champions League, reaching last season’s quarter-finals before being eliminated on away goals by Spanish champions Barcelona.
Monaco’s wave-making on the French Riviera for now is solely down to their unprecedented investment in talents such as Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho this summer.
Since being taken over by QSI, PSG have spent more than €300 million on new players. Monaco, since the arrival of Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, have spent roughly half of that figure.
The side from the Principality have invested in the region of €170 million since December 2011, despite one of those years being spent in Ligue 2.
One of the most frequently-asked questions is: "How do PSG and Monaco plan to get around UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations?"
The answer to that is simple. The same way every other club will look to get around it: through sponsorship. The only differences is that these two particular clubs are looking to do it on a much grander scale than their competitors.
For now, PSG are the only club out of the pair currently competing in Europe. Because of that, the French champions are much further along in their plans to overcome the regulations than ASM.
Qatar Tourism Authority
The side from the French capital appear to base their main tactic on the strength of their impressive collection of sponsorship deals. In addition to regular kit and shirt sponsors, PSG also benefit from a lucrative partnership (h/t ESPN FC) with the Qatar Tourism Authority.
According to the QTA, their interest in the French club is part of a "vast publicity campaign intended to promote the image of Qatar," with the 2022 World Cup on the horizon. For PSG, the link-up gives them an almost unrivalled boost to their operating budget.
The deal is worth a total of more than €150 million over each of the next three seasons, having been active from last year. In total, that means it is worth approximately €700 million.
Putting that into perspective, PSG have spent just over €110 million on the likes of Edinson Cavani, Marquinhos and Lucas Digne this summer (PSG’s summer spending figures via transfermarkt.de).
The French champions can afford to buy two players of the same calibre and price of the €64 million man Cavani, per season, until the end of the current sponsorship deal.
And they will still have money to spare.
This summer there is an excess of almost €40 million, boosted to close to €50 million by the sale of Kevin Gameiro to Sevilla and the slashing of the wage bill through a number of other departures. That money has been re-allocated to the three new arrivals, meaning a less dramatic escalation in wage costs.
Back in May, having just sealed a first Ligue 1 title in 19 years, PSG announced that they had renewed their ties with shirt sponsor Emirates for another five years. Initial reports after the deal was announced suggested that it is one of the most significant in European football (h/t ESPN FC).
Exact details of the sponsorship agreement are unknown, but the figure is thought to be in excess of €100 million, according to Emirates vice-president Thierry Antinori who jokingly revealed that it is a three-digit figure, according to SportsPro.
The same source was also reportedly informed that the deal breaks down to €25 million per season.
Another way of increasing revenues for PSG has been to boost ticket prices. Having previously boasted reasonable rates for a full-season subscription in an effort not to alienate certain groups of supporters, the club have since raised both match-day and season-ticket costs.
According to Just Football’s comparative analysis of Ligue 1’s season ticket prices, PSG’s cheapest season ticket exceeds their closest rivals Monaco by almost five times.
Their most expensive—at €2780—puts them in the top five most expensive season tickets in Europe according to this survey conducted by The Guardian in January into European season-ticket prices.
Next on QSI’s agenda is to look at the kit itself. According to Le Parisien (h/t ESPN FC), the club currently brings in approximately €6.5million per year through Nike who have supplied the French champions’ kits since 1989, becoming a familiar part of the club’s image.
However, that deal is comparatively lower than the deals many of PSG’s European rivals receive from their kit manufacturers.
As a result, unsurprisingly, the club want a better deal.
The issue for Nike is that they don’t want to raise their contribution as high as the €20-30 million QSI are looking for. They already sponsor the French national team in a deal worth €40 million per year though, proving that they have the means to meet PSG’s demands.
Also problematic for the American sportswear giants is that they have now lost English Premier League side Arsenal as major clients.
The Gunners are switching to Puma in a deal that earns the North London club £30 million per season from the end of this campaign, according to the Daily Mail.
The PSG hierarchy have seen this move and believe that the club’s kit manufacturing deal should be worth at least that.
For now, Nike have offered up to €16.5 million, according to RMC Sport (in French), an increase of 10million.
With PSG aiming for something similar to Arsenal’s €34.8 million equivalent, it is expected that a bid in excess of more than €20 million at least will be needed to bring the capital club to the table.
Of course, the cynics will suggest this process is all part of a bigger plan to install the Qatari-based Swiss sportswear company Burrda as the team’s main kit supplier. For now, though, it remains undecided.
Parc des Princes expansion
The last way of increasing revenue, without incurring the wrath of the PSG supporter base for leaving their spiritual home, is to turn the Parc des Princes into a 55-60,000 capacity arena.
Revealed by Le Parisien (h/t ESPN FC) in April, the club are planning to renovate the stadium to the tune of €75 million over the next three years.
The facelift will start with the VIP areas in November of this year before the family areas, changing rooms and eventually capacity are all improved and increased. The considerable space between the pitch and the stands (similar to a running track) will also be removed, bringing the crowd closer to the turf and creating the space for the extra seats.
Currently capable of housing 48,712 spectators, an increase to 55,000 will mean that just over an extra 6,000 will be able to watch the team per match. That figure could raise to 11,000 if the club can obtain planning permission for a 60,000 capacity expansion.
The aforementioned are all ways of effectively increasing revenue, but that is without mentioning player sales.
Like any club that gets taken over and improves its standing within the European game, there will always be players moved on who don’t quite fit in with the team’s plans any longer. Recouping a sizeable amount of the original fee paid for the player—or in other cases, turning a profit—is another part of PSG’s strategy.
French international striker Kevin Gameiro has already left—he was sold for €7.5 million to Sevilla earlier this summer (h/t ESPN FC), despite barely starting a game for PSG in 18 months under Carlo Ancelotti.
He arrived at the club pre-QSI for €11 million, meaning the club actually only lost €3.5 million on a player they never even signed.
Mamadou Sakho could be next after he made clear his desire to leave the French capital, according to ESPN FC.
Despite wanting to keep the 23-year-old, who has come through the ranks in the capital, the French international wants to leave to increase his chances of going to the World Cup in the face of intense competition.
PSG do not want to lose a rare home-grown talent. But should they be unable to extend his contract, they would stand to make a tidy sum if they cash in during his last year under contract.
Those methods of boosting revenue, without stadium expansion, a new kit deal, selling more players or raising ticket prices further, have already contributed to a French record €400 million operating budget, according to L’Equipe (h/t Le Figaro in French).
It should be noted that the figure has been approved by the Direction Nationale du Controle de Gestion (DNCG), notoriously the most stringent financial body in Europe. That means the figures have to go through the most thorough of tests regarding credibility.
In comparison to PSG, Monaco have only just begun their journey towards the summit of French and European football.
Following PSG’s blueprint and benefitting in the league on the pitch, Les Monegasques will likely do the same off it.
The Principality outfit are still in the early stages of their development, having only just been promoted back into Ligue 1, so UEFA FFP is not the most pressing of issues right now.
But if they do qualify for Europe, a distinct possibility even at this early stage, then finding a structure similar to PSG’s will be vital to ensure that their ambitious project remains on course.
With the backing of club president Dimitri Rybolovlev, one of Russia’s richest men and ranked 119 in Forbes’ list of billionaires with a net worth of approximately $9.1 billion, it looks like more a question of "when" and not "if" this will happen.
However, the Russian has already started to put a few measures in place for the club to start heading in the right direction.
Luxury ticket sales
Rybolovlev has implemented a luxury ticketing policy that invites the club’s wealthiest guests to pay in the region of €2,000 per match for a seat in Monaco’s Stade Louis II stadium, a venue that struggles to sell out.
Now with a team worth watching compared to before, season-ticket prices remain affordable at present, despite a small home stadium capacity of fewer than 20,000 spectators.
The lack of a hard-core fan base inside the Principality means the club must draw on the considerable number of fans who live outside of Monaco.
However, this is, after all, ASM’s first season back in Ligue 1 after two years away. As soon as fans start watching the team win regularly, then the club will surely boost prices.
It took PSG two years of QSI’s ownership before winning the Ligue 1 title and only now are the French champions regularly selling out for home matches.
Monaco’s supporter network is not as consistent as PSG’s, though, hence no need for a larger stadium, so the likelihood of the club expanding the iconic Stade Louis II anytime soon is remote.
Being in a similar situation to Qatar, with an upcoming World Cup to think about, do not be surprised to see a Russian equivalent of the QTA emerge to aid the Principality outfit.
Rybolovelev is not only massively wealthy, he is also extremely well connected and held in high esteem in France as well as Eastern Europe.
However, this is all speculative at present. For now, it is difficult to predict how Monaco will face UEFA FFP until they actually qualify for the Champions League or the Europa League.
At this point, although unlikely, it still might not happen.
Given how the club have followed PSG’s example on the pitch and been able to benefit from the path trodden by the current French champions, they will surely mirror it off the pitch, too.
While there are ways around UEFA FFP, those loopholes will continue to be exploited by the biggest European teams and not just PSG and Monaco.
Should other clubs receive offers as generous as the one from which PSG benefit, then European football’s governing body will be powerless to intervene, given the framework they themselves have put in place.
The French champions just happen to be the greatest beneficiaries of a system that is too easy to exploit at present.