Overlooked French football clubs aim to start a romance with US fans

Global Business

France is something of a football anomaly.

The national team won its second World Cup just last year and France just hosted a Women’s World Cup that smashed viewing records.

But most French domestic clubs play in the financial shadows of European rivals like Barcelona and Manchester United, who have fanatical fans around the world.

Now four French clubs are trying to promote their brand on the global stage by holding a unique competition here in Washington, DC.

CGTN’s Owen Fairclough reports.

At the historic but crumbling RFK Stadium in Washington, DC, the gallic shouts of “Bravo! Oui, oui!” mark them out: staff from ASSE St Etienne football club training the next generation with a little French flair.

This is St Etienne’s first-ever visit to the United States where they’re hoping to win over some new fans among youth players.

Saint-Étienne dominated French football in the 1970s.

But today they have nothing like the global recognition of Barcelona, Liverpool or Munich.

So they’re trying to change that by joining Bordeaux, Marseille and Montpellier in an unprecedented mini-tournament organized here in the U.S. capital to engage American fans.

France’s national team has won the World Cup twice in the last 20 years with some of the greatest players ever.

But with the exception of Paris St Germain – PSG – French domestic teams were largely left behind by European football’s multi-billion-dollar globalization.

PSG’s Qatari owners made Neymar and Kylian Mbappe the world’s most expensive players.

A mix of high debts, low fan attendance and lack of investment, prompting players to join wealthier clubs abroad has been blamed.

“You can see from my results in Europe we have much smaller budgets,” St Etienne’s Assistant Coach Julien Sable after explaining to his young charges that French soccer is all about speed and close control said.

“Today our only club is PSG and we have have Monaco next. But after that we’re a long way behind.”

Even so foreign investors see slumbering giants in France.

In 2015 second division side Sochaux became the first in Europe to become fully Chinese-owned.

And Last year Bordeaux became the second French club after Marseille to be acquired by new U.S. owners.

Its new coach Paula Sousa is trying to manage expectations with the millions of dollars being invested.

When I ask him “Do you need to win the Champions League this season?” he laughs a little nervously before replying: No, we are in the process of reshaping the club foundations to build a new type of culture.”

Swiss defender Loris Benito, who joined the club earlier this month, adds:
“I guess it does change a little bit the objectives, the goals which the club sets. It doesn’t change the pressure because I think the pressure should always be very high.”

But if players want a global platform in France, their clubs – and their league – need to find a way to compete off the field, marketing themselves with the best of the best in England, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Joseph DaGrosa, Bordeaux football club’s new owner, discuses French football overseas

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