For anyone seeking clues about what Paris Saint-Germain’s kits for next season will look like, the catwalk and the concert stage could prove to be more enlightening ports of call than conventional football channels.
The first inkling that PSG was working with Air Jordan, the Nike subsidiary created for Michael Jordan, came in May when images appeared online of black Air Jordan 5 trainers on which Nike’s Jumpman logo had neatly replaced the Eiffel Tower in the club’s crest.
Two months later, Justin Timberlake went on stage for a concert at AccorHotels Arena in Paris’ Bercy neighbourhood sporting a black jacket with a massive PSG x Jumpman logo plastered across the back. The buzz got even louder at the end of August when rapper Travis Scott donned a PSG x Air Jordan basketball jersey at the Cabaret Vert Festival in north-eastern France.
The cat was finally let out of the bag at Parc des Princes on Thursday when PSG and Air Jordan announced a pioneering three-year tie-up that will have the club’s players wear Air Jordan kits in this season’s Champions League. The show put on to announce the arrangement spoke volumes about the marketing territory PSG now inhabits.
Shortly before lunchtime, around 100 journalists and influencers from around the world were led through a series of moodily lit black passageways in the bowels of the stadium to a mocked-up concrete sports pitch. Freestylers and dancers performed football and basketball tricks to a lo-fi hip-hop soundtrack before a black screen rose to reveal Kylian Mbappe and Dani Alves in the new kit, shrouded in smoke and flanked by Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Shuang Wang from the PSG women’s team, Air Jordan designer Aleali May, rappers Wale and Fabolous, and French dance duo Les Twins.
The PSG x Air Jordan collaboration comprises 90 products across three ranges: performance, training and lifestyle. It is reportedly worth around €100 million to PSG, and when the collection went live on Friday, the pre-order function on the club website had to be disabled because of the huge weight of demand.
It is the latest example of PSG’s mutation from a mere football club into an emerging lifestyle brand. The club has also collaborated with French fashion designer Christelle Kocher, whose Koche label draws inspiration from urban streetwear. Beyonce was photographed in July wearing a customised, jewel-encrusted PSG shirt designed by Kocher, and British singer Rita Ora wore a patchwork Koche dress featuring the PSG jersey for an appearance on Radio 1 last month. (The dress worn by Ora will set you back just under £1,500.)
Paris Saint-Germain @PSG_inside
@RitaOra with her @PSG_Inside x KOCHÉ ensemble! https://t.co/ooulbb8Zqh
In October, PSG announced a collaboration with the Rolling Stones to mark the band’s three performances in Paris on their No Filter tour. Clothes and accessories, including PSG shirts with the Stones’ iconic lips logo on the back, were sold at Paris’s uber-trendy concept boutique Colette.
Parc des Princes, meanwhile, has become a popular stopping-off point for international celebrities passing through the French capital. Beyonce, Jay-Z, Rihanna, Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, Kourtney Kardashian, Lenny Kravitz, Naomi Campbell, Macklemore and Tyga are among the members of the modern jet set to have taken in PSG home games in the last couple of years.
“The club being in Paris obviously helps,” says Antony Marcou, CEO of sports marketing agency Sports Revolution. “As a marketeer, if you were to think of some buzzwords around Paris the city, you’d be using words like ‘chic,’ ‘high-end,’ ‘culture.’ As a marketing position, it works.”
PSG clearly benefits from association with such glamorous supporters, but those within the club say celebrity fans have gravitated towards the team in an entirely natural way. Brand PSG, they explain, has simply become cool.
“We don’t ask them,” says Fabien Allegre, PSG’s brand diversification and development manager, during an interview with Bleacher Report at Parc des Princes. “We don’t have pretentions to go to people and ask them, ‘Could you please wear this product?’ We’re delighted if they do, but we don’t have a model where we’re going to invest in people like that. It has to be organic. There has to be an attachment.”
As a brand that has been successfully bridging sportswear and street fashion for over three decades, Air Jordan is an ideal team-mate for PSG, which has been a Nike partner since 1989. The hope for the French champions is that the Jumpman logo can move the club’s shirts (and by extension the club itself) into the mainstream in the same way basketball jerseys and trainers are worn as fashion items in the United States.
In marketing phenomenon Neymar, who first collaborated with Air Jordan in 2016, and World Cup-winning 19-year-old wonder Mbappe, who recently swapped shirts with basketball great LeBron James, the collaboration has two dream poster boys.
FC Barcelona @FCBarcelona
Neymar Jr and Michael Jordan together in United States https://t.co/A0dfVwFIFW https://t.co/wR4UQMV0sv
“It’s part of Nasser Al-Khelaifi’s project to make Paris Saint-Germain a very big football club and a global lifestyle brand,” Allegre says. “That’s why, contrary to lots of clubs, we have managed to cover markets that are pretty far away from those that football clubs usually cover.
“It enables us to go and find an audience of fans who don’t necessarily follow Paris Saint-Germain as a football club but who will align themselves with the project. Because wearing a Jordan x PSG product will be very cool from a lifestyle point of view, even if you don’t play basketball or football.”
Al-Khelaifi, PSG’s single-mindedly ambitious president, attended the Air Jordan launch and confidently asserted, in an interview with AFP, that the club had become “one of the three biggest football brands in the world.”
PSG is desperate to increase its market share in North America and, in particular, Asia, where Barcelona, Real Madrid and the Premier League’s elite clubs have tended to hold sway. The club has offices in Shanghai and Singapore and last week opened a new store in Tokyo.
Al-Khelaifi has cited China as a key marketing battleground. Chinese fans wearing PSG jerseys flocked to Shenzhen Universiade Sports Centre in August to see Thomas Tuchel’s side beat Monaco 4-0 to win the Trophee des Champions (the traditional curtain-raiser to the French season), and they are thought by the club’s marketing department to be particularly attracted to sport-lifestyle crossovers such as the Air Jordan partnership.
“If PSG have got one eye on the Chinese market, I can see that working,” Marcou says. “If there’s one country that really buys into that premium, top-end branding in terms of having an obsession with luxury brands, it’s China.”
PSG’s moves into fashion will not be to everyone’s taste. Members of hardcore fan group Collectif Ultras Paris have already protested against this season’s home shirt, criticising the club for abandoning the traditional Ajax-inspired design, created by Parisian fashion designer Daniel Hechter in 1973, in favour of a jersey with a blurry red zig-zag stripe down its centre. The new Air Jordan Champions League home shirt, which is black with a thinner white band down the middle, is unlikely to appease them.
FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images
Nevertheless, the queues that stretched outside the PSG megastores on the Champs-Elysees and beside Parc des Princes when the new Air Jordan merchandise went on sale told their own story. For many PSG fans, the diverse approach to branding is simply an inevitable part of being a modern superclub.
“This marketing strategy has enabled us to establish a PSG brand and to build the team that we have currently,” says Valentin Dubois, who has been a PSG fan since, aged 11, he attended Ronaldinho‘s first game for the club in 2001. “We wouldn’t have Mbappe and Neymar in the same team today if we didn’t have such a strong global brand.”
In sporting terms, PSG will continue to struggle for legitimacy until the team become regular participants in the Champions League semi-finals—a stage of the competition that has proved beyond them during the seven-year tenure of their megarich Qatari owners.
But with Air Jordan having picked PSG for its first football collaboration—as opposed to Barcelona, Chelsea, Inter Milan or any of the other glamour clubs in the Nike network—they are setting the pace on the marketing front.
“If Air Jordan wanted to associate itself with Paris Saint-Germain, it’s a sign of the work we’ve done,” Allegre says. “There was no question—if there’s a club in the world who you want to do a project like that with, it’s Paris Saint-Germain.”