This is a follow-up guest post by our Serie A man Eric Giardini.
Following the death of her father Franco in 2008, Rosella Sensi was elevated to the role of president at Roma.
Under the fifteen year reign of Franco Sensi, Roma experienced a golden age which saw the club win five domestic trophies and had moderate success in Europe over that time.
However, business at Italpetroli, the oil company owned by the Sensis that had the control over Roma, has been down and Rosella has been forced to put her shares of Roma up for sale to pay of the Italpetroli debts.
For almost a year, the club’s new owner, UniCredit, has been seeking a buyer. Five potential bids were considered and in early February a buyer was identified. This buyer came from a somewhat unlikely location—the United States.
Thomas Di Benedetto, an American from Boston, submitted the most competitive bid, and that bid was accepted by UniCredit.
The group, Di Benedetto AS Roma LLC, includes Julian Movesian, the President and CEO of Succession Capital Alliance and Arthur Falcone, a Florida real estate developer. Di Benedetto is also a partner in Fenway Sports Group – formally known as New England Sports Ventures (NESV). This name should sound familiar to Liverpool supporters as NESV, with John W. Henry at the lead, successfully purchased the club in October 2010. All indications are, however, that Di Benedetto had distanced himself from the NESV venture (thus the creation of his own group) to allow him to purchase Roma without having any potential conflicts of interest in regards to owning two clubs. NESV has said that it is “not involved or aware” of Di Benedetto’s dealings with regards to the purchase of Roma.
The group’s bid proposal is for up to $177.3 million and the proceeds of the sale to would be used to pay off the remainder of the debt that Rosella Sensi owes to UniCredit. A €50 credit line from UniCredit that would be invested back into the club in the form of players is also a provision in the deal.
Last week, it was announced that Di Benedetto entered the final stages of his proposed purchase of Roma by entering an exclusive 30-day negotiating period to finalize the sale of the club. This announcement came during a difficult period for the club as they had lost four straight in all competitions, which dropped the club to eighth – a full nine points behind Lazio for the final Champions League place, and were all but eliminated from the Champions League with a 3-2 home defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk.
The last straw was a 4-3 defeat at Genoa after leading 3-0 at one point. After the match, manager Claudio Ranieri handed in his resignation, much to the delight of the hardcore supporters. Old fan favorite Vincenzo Montella has been brought in on a temporary basis and now has the increasingly difficult task of righting the ship by season’s end. Montella, who retired in 2009 and played with many of the current squad, was coaching the 14- and 15-year-olds in the Roma youth system. Although his record this season at that level was an impressive 21-0-0, one must be concerned that he is in over his head at this level. Montella’s debut was a success as Roma defeated Bologna 1-0 to pick up a much-needed three points and move within six of Lazio. Interestingly enough, he started the match with Totti on the bench.
Di Benedetto and company aim to double Roma’s revenue to €250 million in five years and build a new stadium within eight years. Tentative plans have already been made with the new stadium to be completed in 2014. Currently, Roma plays in Stadio Olimpico, which is owned by the Italian National Olympic Committee which leases the stadium to both Roma and Lazio. Having a stadium to call its own (one that will not be shared with cross-town rivals Lazio) will help to generate further revenue. Another issue with the two clubs sharing the stadium is the difficulty in acquiring full commercial support. Companies are hesitant to spend too much on permanent advertisements that will have to be switched out depending on which club has use of the stadium that week. By having its own dedicated stadium, sponsors should be more willing to spend more money on advertising around the stadium.
What Does this Mean for the Future?
For the past several years, Roma’s finances have been severely limited. The purchasing of new players was a luxury that only other clubs could afford while Roma’s assets were sold to maintain operating costs.
No sale was more disappointing than the sale of Alberto Aquilani to Liverpool in the summer of 2009 for €20 million. With several integral players nearing the end of their contracts, the club is in what appears to be a constant state of being ready to sell. Recently, players such as Daniele De Rossi (Real Madrid, Manchester United), Mirko Vučinić (Liverpool, Blackburn), and Philippe Mexès (Milan) have all been hot commodities around Europe that would all bring in a hefty sum of money. With the money Di Benedetto and his group are looking to invest in the club and the squad, these valuable players should be able to remain in Rome with other pieces brought in to complement them rather than selling one to pay for the others.
Interestingly, Di Benedetto’s baseball background with the Boston Red Sox should be useful in his financial running of Roma. The Red Sox, already with the second highest payroll in Major League Baseball, were able to go out and acquire two additional highly-paid players for the 2011 season. Boston learned that in order to be successful you need to hold onto your prized assets and build around them. For example, Di Benedetto has come out and said that De Rossi will be a focal point that he will look to build around him with other quality players.
It will also be interesting to see if the “Moneyball” techniques from Boston, and now Liverpool, will be brought to Rome – and I can only assume they will be. This is a focus on using modern analysis of statistics to determine potential value and upside in players. This was first successful in Oakland when General Manager Billy Beane began to use these ideas rather than the traditional scouting to help build a competitive team for a franchise with an economic disadvantage. If the new American owners are able to implement the Moneyball techniques that have been successful in baseball, and are being implemented at Liverpool, then Roma should be on the right path. Ok, enough talk about baseball (Go Giants!).
Di Benedetto has wasted little time in preparing his summer wish list. Even before Ranieri handed in his resignation, Di Benedetto had not shy from his desire to bring in a new, top-class manager to Rome.
His top two choices were Pep Guardiola, who is set to sign a new deal this week with Barcelona, and Carlo Ancelotti. Chelsea’s recent performances, including this past weekend’s elimination from the FA Cup, could mean that Ancelotti’s time in London could be nearing an end. He has made no secret about his desire to return to manage the club that we made 171 appearances for as a player and helped lead Roma to a scudetto in 1983. I think Ancelotti, at this point, is the right man for the job as he has proven to be a winner at all of his previous stops and seems to have the right personality to deal with the big egos that make up the Roma squad.
Along with a new manager, Di Benedetto’s group has highlighted players that they are targeting to bring to the Olimpico next season. Andrea Pirlo, whose contract expires this summer, has been targeted by Roma, as well as clubs across Italy, as contract talks between the playmaker and AC Milan have reached a standstill. I think this move only happens if Roma secures Ancelotti as the two had great success during their time together in Milan.
A current player for Ancelotti at Chelsea has also been linked with a summer move to Roma. Didier Drogba appears to be unhappy in West London after seemingly being replaced by new arrival Fernando Torres, and since having five striker options is not enough in Rome, he has been linked to a move to the peninsula. Assuming Ancelotti is the man in Rome next season, and it appears Drogba is unhappy with him and his lack of playing time in London, I find it difficult to believe that he follows Ancelotti to Italy especially with the options currently there. If Di Benedetto is looking to sell a striker or two (Vučinić and Adriano being the most likely), it makes a bit more sense to see Drogba coming to Italy. The last name being linked to a move to Di Benedetto’s Roma, and the link is quite comical, is Gareth Bale. Unless Di Benedetto has deeper pockets than anybody is reporting, I find it extremely difficult to believe that Roma can fend off every other club in Europe for Bale’s signature. The only thing known for certain is that money will be provided for whoever is the manager to make upwards of four signings, according to Il Corriere dello Sport.
Di Benedetto has made it known that he would like to expand the name of Roma throughout the world and make it a household name alongside the likes of Inter Milan, Juventus, and Manchester United. I have no doubts that this can happen, but it will take time and, most importantly, winning. Di Benedetto has mentioned that he is open to the idea of making changes to the kits and sponsorship.
I personally think that these moves, aside from obviously winning, will lead to the biggest change in terms of marketing the club worldwide. The Italian telecommunications company Wind is contracted as the official sponsor seen on the front of the Roma kit until 2013 and will pay the club €16.5 million plus incentives over that time period. Once this sponsorship ends, I think it would be beneficial for Roma to look elsewhere for sponsorship – particularly for something with a bit more worldwide appeal. Roma and Kappa have extended their kit sponsorship deal until 2017 which will see the company pay the club a combined €34.5 million; however, I think Di Benedetto will look elsewhere after that deal ends, or may even try to terminate the deal sooner. He has mentioned that he is open to having Nike or adidas kits for the club and I think this is a great way to try to market the club in the United States. Kappa jerseys are difficult to find and expensive. Roma jerseys only became available in the United States in the January/February timeframe and with a cost approaching $100.
Additionally, compared to the Nike (Juventus, Inter) or adidas (Milan) clubs in Serie A, Roma’s Kappa jerseys are available for sale a good eight months after and for approximately $35 more. Availability also differs greatly. While it is possible to walk into soccer stores in the United States and find jerseys from the above clubs, as well as other clubs throughout the world, I have yet to see a Roma jersey on the shelf at any local soccer store. By introducing more easily accessible and more affordable jerseys, the Roma name and brand should become more prevalent outside of Italy, which in turn leads to more money.
Another thing I haven’t seen from the group but would raise the profile is a US Summer Tour. The past few summers have seen an increase in the European powerhouse clubs coming to America to play dates throughout the country. Many of these matches are played in front of large crowds as it gives American fans a chance to see their favorite clubs play live. Rumors had Roma playing Manchester City at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, but allegedly Rosella Sensi wanted too much money and the deal fell through. Inter Milan took Roma’s place and defeated Manchester City 3-0 in front of 36,569 (including myself). While it is difficult to speculate what the attendance would have been had Roma played instead of Inter, the exposure and the money made would have helped the club immensely.
A quick look at the 2011 Boston Red Sox schedule has the Red Sox out of Boston from July 11-21. Imagine Henry’s Liverpool taking on Di Benedetto’s Roma at Fenway Park. Is there any way that match does not sellout? Or even have it at Gillette Stadium if the seating arrangement at Fenway cannot be made conducive for soccer. If Roma were to add a couple more US dates (including Washington, DC hint hint), the exposure makes the trip worth it (and at this rate there will be no European competitions for the club to prepare for in the summer so the extra rest will not be needed). This additional revenue can be pumped back into the club to help pay for transfers and build the new stadium which will bring in further revenue. It is an upward spiral that with more revenue usually comes more success and with more success come more revenue.
While the timing of these negotiations isn’t ideal, I think the overall outcome has a chance to bring new and exciting times to Roma. All of the pieces are in place for Roma to be successful in Italy and in Europe. Interestingly enough, there are parallels to Roma and the Boston Red Sox. Both have large, passionate fan bases and have the ability to be consistent winning clubs. While Di Benedetto has had success in Boston, time will tell if he can bring his winning formula to Rome. If he thinks the celebrations in Boston after the 2004 World Series were big, he should make sure to be at the Circus Maximus to join the one million Roma supporters after the club’s scudetto victory 10 years ago.