Who owns the French football clubs?
On June 21, a press release from Olympique Lyonnais (OL) formalized the takeover of the football club, historically owned by Jean Michel-Aulas, by the American businessman John Textor. The latter promises to take out the portfolio in order, in particular, to overthrow the Parisian hegemony, affirming in a press conference to have « invested with [ses] equity ». Of the 523 million euros obtained, Textor already plans to inject 86 million as the summer transfer window approaches. The detail of the distribution of the rest of the sum should be announced during the general meeting of the club, on July 29. Mr. Aulas should remain as president of OL for the next three seasons, but he is no longer the majority shareholder.
This acquisition is part of a pattern that has been observed for ten years now in the middle of French professional football: the arrival of a wealthy foreign investor amounting to the capital of a club to take over the presidency.
- Financial or sporting performance, diplomacy: various buyout motivations
In France, 2011 was marked by the takeover of two of the biggest Ligue 1 clubs by foreign investors. They have deep pockets and intend to inject sums of money never seen before in the French championship. In 2011, Colony Capital, majority shareholder of Paris-Saint-Germain, with more than 95% of the shares, lost money and faced a major image deficit. The fund then sells 70% of its shares to the Qatari joint venture Qatar Sports Investment. The small emirate uses the soft-power football to improve his reputation. During the 2010-2011 season, PSG’s budget was almost doubled, going from 80 to 150 million, and has not stopped increasing since.
It was also in 2011 that, after several refusals, the Principality of Monaco ceded two thirds of the shares of AS Monaco to the Russian businessman Dmitri Rybolovlev for a symbolic euro. At the time, according to an administrator of the Monegasque club, the princely family no longer wished to continue fully fund the club., whose accounts were in bad shape. The Russian businessman’s investments eventually paid off and transformed Monaco into a top club, upon his return to Ligue 1 in the 2013-2014 season, during which the club’s budget was increased by 100 million euros. euros.
- Race to the budgetary escalation for ten years
While the budgets of French professional clubs have increased over the years, the gradual arrival of foreign investors has more than doubled the average club budget in Ligue 1, from €52 million in 2011 to €116 million. in 2022.
Today, the top five budgets of Ligue 1 (Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Monaco and Lille) are those of teams owned by foreign investors: Americans, Russians, Luxembourgers or Qataris. In 2022, foreign capital represents three quarters of the total budget of Ligue 1 clubs.
Professional French football is undergoing financial overbidding from foreign investors, like the English Premier League or the Italian Serie A, which are also coveted by foreign capital. Still impossible twenty years ago, when the football businessthe gaps are widening between clubs in the same division, like the giant PSG and its 620 million euros against AC Ajaccio – which is moving up to Ligue 1 for next season – and its 8.5 million euros last season, although a relative increase in the budget has been confirmed by the club president. The combined budget of Ligue 1 clubs in the year 2000 was €915 million, compared to nearly €2.4 billion the next season.
These sums make it increasingly difficult for small clubs to maintain the level of financial competition imposed. Thus, Angers SCO, in budgetary difficulty and monitored by the financial authorities of French football, should change majority shareholder to take over the management of the club. On May 18, Saïd Chabane announced to his employees that he would sell his shares, probably to the American investment group GFC, for an amount ranging, according to The Team, between 65 and 75 million euros.
- Buying a club, a risky investment
The takeover of French clubs by foreign capital has followed the same pattern for ten years: takeover of a club with a sharp drop in performance (PSG, Bordeaux, etc.) or in a bad financial situation (Angers, Monaco, etc.) to raise it to the rankings.
These takeovers are not safe investments for investors, but bets on the future of clubs, as was the case for the Girondins de Bordeaux which, despite a large financial contribution injected very recently, have not succeeded in stay in the elite. On the other hand, the 100 million euros in revenue that PSG received during the 2010-2011 season turned into 556 million for the 2020-2021 season under the leadership of the club’s president, Nasser Al-Khelaïfi, in the form television rights, box office revenues and the sale of derivative products.
If foreign capital, clearly conquered by French football, has been pouring in for a decade to buy French professional clubs, French investors are losing interest in foreign sports clubs. The OL Groupe did indeed acquire, under the Aulas era, the Seattle club, in which evolves the 2019 Women’s Golden Ball Megan Rapinoe, but the group is now the property of the American John Textor.