The pitch of Paris

When Colony Capital acquired football club Paris Saint-Germain last year, they also acquired the team’s history-rich stadium, the Parc des Princes.

Until the Stade de France was built for the 1998 World Cup, the Parc des Princes served as the country’s national stadium. So the home pitch of football club Paris Saint-Germain—which is located on some prime real estate in the city’s ritzy 16th arrondissement—has witnessed its share of French soccer history.

Named for the royal hunting ground on which it was built, the present, crown-like stadium was designed by architect Roger Tallibert and opened in July & August 1972. The two previous stadiums on the site were more multi-purposed and, for years, served as the endpoint for the Tour de France.

The current stadium, which seats 46,480, was the battleground for France’s 2-0 victory over Spain in the 1984 European Championship Final. It was also the site of the 1993 loss to Bulgaria, which kept the national team from qualifying for the 1994 FIFA World Cup, which was held in the US.

After being acquired by film company Canal Plus in 1991, Paris Saint-Germain was able to shake a reputation sullied by a violent, thuggish fan base and the team emerged as a force in the mid-1990s, becoming French champion in 1994 and winning a number of European cup victories.

In 2006, PSG was sold to an investor consortium led by Los Angeles-based Colony Capital, which has also invested in a Japanese baseball complex that serves as home to the Fukuoka Hawks. The investor group, which includes Butler Capital Partners and Morgan Stanley, has not made public its plans for Parc des Princes, but that has not stopped the team’s fans from speculating. Internet reports have suggested that the new owners plan to add luxury boxes, increase the stadium’s capacity and eventually list the team on the public markets.

Long one of the glamorous stalwarts of the French league, Paris Saint-Germain has struggled in recent years amid corruption scandals, hooliganism and poor performance. Vivendi, the parent company of Canal Plus, reportedly invested approximately €250 million ($190 million) in the club, but was still never able to turn a profit. PSG got off to its worst start ever at the beginning of the 2006-2007 season and, in November,  a PSG supporter was killed by a police officer during a melee involving anti-Semitic and racist violence. Following the incident, the mayor of Paris threatened to cut off the team’s annual €2 million subsidy if efforts to curb hooliganism were not implemented. Two sections of the stadium, where a rough group of fans with right-wing ties known as The Independents usually congregate, were closed through early 2007.

Still, things are moving in the right direction. Following the troubles on and off the pitch, manager Guy Lacombe was replaced in January by former Saint-Germain midfielder Paul Le Guen. The switch led to some all-important wins and ties and, last month, the team kept their spot in Ligue 1, the premier French football league, by the skin of their teeth.

“This is no time for a party but the job has been done,” Le Guen told reporters after the match. “Our objective was to stay in the top division.”