Sat, Apr 18, 2015 - Page 18 News List

Cultural revolution as PRC firm buys Sochaux

AFP, SOCHAUX, France

The sale of historic French soccer club Sochaux-Montbeliard by automaker Peugeot to a Chinese high-tech company has sparked a cultural revolution in the gray industrial bastion.

Tradition means a lot in Sochaux. Peugeot created the soccer club in 1928 for its workers. The team had spent a record 66 seasons in the French top league until they were relegated last year.

Olympique de Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain cannot match that.

The Stade Auguste Bonal is in the shadow of the Peugeot factory that still employs 10,000 workers, but that heritage is about to go out the window with the arrival of Tech Pro, a Hong Kong-listed electrical components manufacturer, who have said they are to pay 7 million euros (US$7.9 million) for Sochaux in a deal which could be completed next month.

Tech Pro chairman Li Wing-sang has paid tribute to the “fabulous brand” which he said Sochaux represents.

“We don’t want big changes. We want to support what works well, to conserve Sochaux’s culture intact, at 100 percent,” he told the regional L’Est Republicain newspaper recently.

“The creation of the football club by the Peugeot family created an extraordinary social network for this region and gave it an identity card,” said Marcel Bonnot, president of the Pays de Montbeliard regional council, which takes in Sochaux. “This is a real cultural and sporting shock.”

Sochaux president Laurent Pernet said that selling a club with such a stable ownership was a “first in Europe.”

“The object of the management team now is to get through this transition, so that the spirit and soul of the club change as little as possible and remains with its historic values,” Pernet said.

However, Pernet stressed that the new owners have a “serious and long-term” economic plan.

Sochaux-Montbeliard’s players have sought to stay out of the takeover spotlight, but coach Olivier Echouafni acknowledged the “little revolution” taking place around the stadium.

Meanwhile, Peugeot has decided its future interests are not in soccer.

“Sochaux, it’s not about sporting sponsorship, it’s a club which belongs to the group. Football is not among the sports which the brand wants to invest in,” Peugeot marketing and communications director Guillaume Couzy said.

Couzy remains evasive concerning the future of the Peugeot lion emblem which features on the Sochaux-Montbeliard jersey.

The global financial crisis has seen Peugeot focused more on auto racing, though it withdrew from the Le Mans 24 hour race in 2012.

“They are very present in traditional partnerships, brands. In tennis for the general public, in golf for B2B [business to business] communication,” said Bruno Bianzina, director of Sport Market, an agency specializing in sports marketing.

Last year, Peugeot celebrated the 30th anniversary of their involvement in tennis, notably the French Open Grand Slam event.

In 2011, the French Open victory by Asia’s only Grand Slam winner Li Na boosted sales of Peugeot models in China.

Now, through the recruitment of Novak Djokovic as an “ambassador,” the brand gets global attention, especially in Asia, where the Serb is extremely popular.

“It’s a kind of ambush marketing. Whenever there is an international event, Peugeot is there through Djoko, even if they aren’t the sponsors,” said Lionel Maltese, professor of marketing at the Kedge Business School.

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