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Sponsorship

More than a deal - Qatari/French relations continue to strengthen

Professor Simon Chadwick

Posted: February 25, 2019

From the moment that Qatar Sports Investments acquired France’s Paris Saint Germain (PSG), observers have asked why the UAE’s Emirates airline has remained as the team’s main shirt sponsor.

After all, Qatar has its own aggressively ambitious state owned national airline, a major rival to its near neighbour, flying in an out of a Doha hub that remains a competitive threat to Dubai’s bigger, more established airport hub.

The PSG shirt space contradiction has been exacerbated by the appearance of Ooredoo (a Qatari state owned telecommunications corporation) and Qatar National Bank (also state owned) logos on the French team’s shirts. Like the club, both are Qatari state owned enterprises.

The near two years old Gulf regional feud has brought further mystery to the longevity of Emirates’ prominence at PSG. Even when Qatar and the UAE were on good terms, Qatar Airways retained a strangle hold on flights into and out of Doha’s Hamad International Airport (HIA). Emirates flights out of HIA were few and far between.

However, since mid-2017 traffic between the two small Gulf nations has effectively dried-up as Qatar Airways flights have been banned from landing in Dubai, and Emirates flights to Doha have ceased.

For the last two years, the front of PSG’s shirts have therefore resembled something like a geopolitical frontline in a proxy war, simply waiting for a spark that would prompt a confrontation. In the end though, nothing happened as both parties dutifully surrendered to contract law and let the clock run down on the deal.

But now the end has finally been heralded and closure has been achieved on the most ironic of shirt sponsorship deals. From the start of next season, France’s Accor will take Emirates’ place on the front of PSG’s jerseys in a deal estimated by some to be worth $57 million per year.

This is a marked increase on the $35 million dollars the Dubai airline was paying, although is some way short of the $93 million per year that PSG’s Qatari owners were demanding from Emirates.

One suspects that such an expectation was political brinkmanship, as Qatar sought to effectively price Dubai out of the running for the highest profile shirt deal in French club football. It will be interesting to see whether Emirates, the UAE or one of the country’s allies respond with an ostentatious splash on a deal with a rival French club, to deflect attention away from Paris.

Whilst we wait to see if anything happens it is worth noting that Accor, a multinational hospitality company that owns, manages and franchises hotels, resorts, and vacation properties, is actually partly owned by the Qatar Investment Authority (which holds a ten per cent stake) in the business. Ironically, Saudi Arabia also holds a stake (of five per cent).

Perhaps the political shenanigans and contradictions at PSG are not yet over. Yet this observation almost seems rhetorical, with the club’s Qatari owner Nasser Al-Khelaifi having recently been elected to UEFA Executive Committee. PSG is now routinely associated with UEFA Financial Fair Play infractions, which Al-Khelaifi’s Nyon elevation may go some way to alleviating.

Even so the Accor deal will help, especially as it keeps Qatari far enough away from the French club so as not to heighten suspicion of interference. But then not too far away so that the country’s investments cannot be protected. The significantly increased price tag for the deal will surely assist in matters of finance too.

Someone close to French/Qatari affairs once described the countries’ relationship as ‘somewhat unhealthy’. Yet despite this perception, Accor’s addition to PSG’s sponsorship roster represents a further strengthening of ties between the two countries.

Indeed, Qatari investment in PSG and Accor has rapidly become a conduit for representing ‘Brand France’ on an international stage. What precisely this symbolises is a moot point, suffice to say though that government in Doha is now not only representing France through club football but also through its tourism interests as well.

We perhaps should not be surprised then that Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani and France’s Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, recently met in Doha, to affirm their support for one another. And, yes, football was a topic of discussion.

About Professor Simon Chadwick

Simon is Professor of Sports Enterprise at Salford University in Manchester (UK), where he is also a Co-Director of the Centre for Sports Business. He is also a Founding Co-Director of the China Soccer Observatory and a Senior Fellow of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham (UK). He has worked in football across the world, for various organisations including companies, federations, and governments. He tweets via @Prof_Chadwick