Skip to main content

Is Paris Saint-Germain's Chinese charm offensive good business?

By Euan McKirdy, CNN
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
PSG fans welcome their team to Hong Kong Stadium for a friendly match against local champion Kitchee.
PSG fans welcome their team to Hong Kong Stadium for a friendly match against local champion Kitchee.
  • French Ligue 1 champion beats Hong Kong's Kitchee 6-2 in a friendly in the Asian city
  • Overseas tours -- especially to Asia -- are part of the landscape of modern football
  • This year's French Super Cup, the traditional season-opener, was moved to Beijing

Follow us at @WorldSportCNN and like us on Facebook

Hong Kong (CNN) -- For at least 10 minutes, it looked as if it could have been a fairytale night for the home side.

Within only the first few minutes, Hong Kong's league winner Kitchee found itself in the jarringly unfamiliar position of being a goal to the good against star-studded French football champion Paris Saint-Germain.

Natural order reasserted itself shortly after, however, with PSG winger Hervin Ongenda scoring a well-taken goal as the crowd erupted. It was the first of six for the Ligue 1 side, including a hat-trick for star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

As the wisdom of arduous preseason tours is being questioned in some quarters, especially as exhausted players return from the World Cup, PSG was in bullish form here in Hong Kong, and its growing popularity in evidence.

A fan applauds PSG\'s star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovich off the pitch
A fan applauds PSG's star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovich off the pitch

Indeed, wading through the crowds before kickoff, it was almost impossible to tell which team held home advantage in Tuesday's match, with PSG replica shirts -- mostly sporting the number 10 and Ibra's name splayed across the back -- easily outnumbering any other sartorial choices.

"This is the first time I've seen them live," says Calvin Lee, a finance professional who wears his navy-blue PSG jersey over his white business shirt. "I've been a fan for around two years, ever since they started buying up international stars."

Regular trips

The Asia preseason tour has become an annual ritual for many of Europe's top teams, although this year many English high-flyers, having won over Asian fans through years of visits, are instead turning their attention to that other great untapped market, the United States.

The popularity of English teams in Hong Kong, as in so many other Asian markets, far outstrips that of their European neighbors, even Champions League winner Real Madrid and fellow Spanish giant Barcelona, as well as German titleholder Bayern Munich.

Beckham appearance causes stampede
Ibrahimovic: Hero or villain?
Exclusive: What makes Ibrahimovic tick?

"It's exciting to see these matches live (in the stadium)," says 16-year-old Mok Lui Ngai, who is wearing a PSG replica shirt with Beckham's name on the back, a throwback to when the English superstar played half a season in the French capital.

"I'd also come and watch if it was Arsenal or Manchester United, though."

It is through tours like PSG's mini-excursion into Hong Kong, and onto China, that the marketing departments of these clubs hope to redress this balance.

Playing catch-up

"We are quite lagging behind the English Premier League clubs and you need to catch this distance so I think it's important to be here, even though it's a long (way to) travel," PSG's executive vice-president of business operations Frederic Longuepee tells CNN.

It's not just the clubs that are targeting Asian fans as the financial future. The French league moved this season's traditional opener, the French Super Cup, in Beijing, echoing the Italian FA's decision to hold its version, the Supercoppa, abroad in recent years.

It is the the first time the French curtain-raiser has gone to Asia. Previously, the trophy winners had met in Canada (2009), the U.S. (2012) and Africa (2010/11/13).

These games, featuring the league and domestic cup winners, are a step up from preseason friendlies like PSG's match against Kitchee.

Saturday's Trophée des Champions clash with cup-winning Guingamp presents an opportunity for PSG to cement the allegiance of soccer fans in the Chinese capital.

Despite the travel time from France, and the relative lack of recuperation time that the players have had in this World Cup year, Longuepee says it makes "perfect sense" to serve up an exhibition match in Hong Kong, en route to Beijing.

"Since the French Ligue 1 decided to come to Asia to play the French Super Cup it makes sense to come earlier," he says. "To come here and to meet with our partners and sponsors."

Tours criticized

This year, there has been criticism of the demands of summer tours from other top managers, including English side Arsenal's Arsene Wenger and new Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal.

PSG's head coach Laurent Blanc, however, argues that the commercial aspects of the club's summer plans do not interfere with his players' fitness, or their preparation for a grueling season ahead.

"It was always ... a good opportunity for the squad to come to Asia, especially Hong Kong, ahead of the Champions' Trophy (Super Cup) in Beijing so it was all planned, there is no problem at at," the 1998 World Cup winner told CNN.

He also said that the team didn't need to stoop to scrapping for the allegiance of fans in Asia.

"Without any (arrogance), PSG is one of the greatest football teams in Europe, so it's already (a jewel) of the football world ... there's nothing to pretend, nothing to compete."

Visiting fans

While other top managers bemoan the travel time and physical demands that these tours put on their squads, PSG is a relative newcomer to the Asian market and welcomes the opportunity to meet potential devotees -- and convert some undecideds.

"It's part of being a great football club," says Longuepee. "You have to come and see your fans, otherwise you cannot expand and you cannot compete."

He added that there were further plans to travel to the Middle East, home of the club's wealthy Qatar backers, in the French season's winter break, a time traditionally reserved for teams to recuperate.

And with a 6-2 scoreline to take to Beijing for next week's French Cup, and a host of potential fans who will be increasingly likely to tune into PSG's French and Champions' League games next season, overseas detours like this aren't going away any time soon.

Read: Millions love 'beautiful game,' so why does China struggle?

Read: European clubs targeting U.S. market

Read: Lampard - Time is right for American move

Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:23 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
After 20 years, more than 300 goals and a host of major honors, Thierry Henry has called time on his glittering football career.
updated 5:14 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
They do things differently at Sociedad Deportiva Eibar, up in the mist-cloaked valleys of the Basque country. And it is working.
updated 8:53 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
He might be struggling to score goals for Liverpool, but Mario Balotelli's cheeky tweet about the British monarch hit the spot during the World Cup.
updated 8:53 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
How Real Madrid's new stadium will look
They splash the cash on the world's best players, now Real Madrid are giving the Bernabeu the same treatment with a bling makeover.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Football world mourns South African captain Senzo Meyiwa who was shot and killed during a botched robbery in a township near Johannesburg.
updated 9:48 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
A man as a Roman centurion and who earn his living by posing with tourists gestures in front of the Colosseum during a protest where some of his colleagues climbed on the monument on April 12, 2012 in Rome. The costumed centurions are asking for the right to work there after they were banned following a decision by local authorities.
From the ancient ruins of Rome, a new empire rises. But the eyes of the city's newest gladiator light up at thoughts of the Colosseum.
updated 12:22 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Once part of Germany's largest Jewish sports club, now he's the first ISIS suspect to stand trial in a country left shocked by his alleged radicalization.
updated 10:11 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
One goal in eight matches for new club Liverpool, and dumped by the Italian national team -- Mario Balotelli has yet to shine on his English return.
updated 2:19 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Ched Evans smiles during the Wales training session ahead of their UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier against England on March 25, 2011 in Cardiff, Wales.
Should a convicted rapist, who has served their time in prison, be allowed to resume their old job? What if that job was as a high-profile football player?
updated 8:47 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
After 10 years of golden glory, it's easy to see how Lionel Messi has taken his place among the football gods.
updated 6:34 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
A football fan wipes a tear after Inter Milan's Argentinian defender Javier Zanetti has greeted fans following the announcement of his retirement before the start of the Italian seria A football match Inter Milan vs Lazio, on May 10, 2014, in San Siro Stadium In Milan
When will the tears stop? A leading Italian football club is pursuing a new direction -- under the guidance of its new Indonesian owner.
updated 6:41 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Norwegian 15-year-old Martin Odegaard is the youngest player ever to feature in a European Championships qualifying match.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Fri October 10, 2014
After revolutionizing cricket with its glitzy Twenty20 league, India has now thrown large sums of money at a new football venture.
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Get ruthless. That is Rio Ferdinand's message to soccer's authorities in the fight to tackle the scourge of racism.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
A picture taken on May 16, 2014 shows 15-year-old Norwegian footballer Martin Oedegaard of club Stroemsgodset IF cheering during a match in Drammen, Norway. Oedegaard is set to become Norways youngest player ever in the national football team.
He's just 15 and the world is seemingly already at his feet. Norway's Martin Odegaard is being sought by Europe's top clubs.