Beyond The EPL: An American At Roma

This is a follow-up guest post by our Serie A man Eric Giardini.

Unable to balance the books at Roma....

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.

The American at Roma...

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.

New roles at Roma for former teammates...(Montella on right)

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.

Safe to say this moved didn't work out for any interested party...

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.

Is it meant to be? (Ancelotti seen here in a reunion match)

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.

Pretty sharp, but is it selling?

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.

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23 responses to this post.

  1. Eric:

    I have followed this situation fairly closely, and had a brief interview with Julian Movsesian a few weeks ago. They have big plans, but are taking over during a somewhat chaotic time. Mr. Movsesian told me that everything would be based in Rome and that as you noted, global brand management would be a key area.

    Here is a link to the interview:

    http://calcio1.blogspot.com/2011/02/interview-with-julian-movsesian-of.html

    Roma had a €15 million euro loss during the last semester recording period. Failure to qualify for the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League would cost Roma approximately €20 to €24 million euro.

    The DiBenedetto Group are very experienced business leaders, and also include James Pallotta, one of the partners with the Boston Celtics.

    Thank you and all the best,

    Steve

    Reply

    • Posted by EFG on 2011/03/03 at 5:38 AM

      I think that interview highlights the understanding the group has the of suppporters’ reservations about the ownership change. The biggest fear of any club purchased by a foreign owner is the idea that the new owners will not build upon or care about the tradition of the club. Di Benedetto has come out and said that they will remember they are merely “custodians” of the club while the true ownership falls to the city of Rome and the club’s supporters. For a club so full of local pride (almost to a detriment), this is a huge statement to make to help appease some fears. By running the day-to-day operations from Rome, this also shows the supporters that the owners do not intend to remain a faceless entity from overseas but will be there where the action is.

      Rumor also has it that Di Benedetto had made his mind up to purchase the club after being in the Olimpico for Roma’s 1-0 victory of Inter back in September and the passion that was at the stadium. Speaking as a Roma fan, I think he “gets” it.

      Reply

  2. Eric:

    Here was Mr. DiBenedetto’s statement a few weeks ago. My translation from my blog:

    «Continueremo a lavorare per concludere con successo le negoziazioni il più presto possibile».

    “We’ll continue to work to successfully conclude the negotiations as quickly as possible.”

    «I miei partner in questa iniziativa rappresentano il più alto livello di professionalità ed entusiasmo e siamo rappresentati da investitori con grande esperienza sia nel mondo dello sport che della finanza».

    “My partners in this initiative represent the highest level of professionalism and enthusiasm and we are represented by investors with great experience in the world of sport and finance.”

    «Siamo onorati che la nostra offerta sia stata scelta come la migliore».

    «quanto prima intendiamo avviare in nostro progetto di crescita che mira a valorizzare la società e la squadra non perdendo di vista il fatto che agiremo come custodi di questa grande squadra nel nome dei cittadini di Roma e di tutti i tifosi della As Roma».

    “We are honored that our offer was selected as the best one.”

    “We intend at first to begin our project of growth that looks to evaluate the organization and the team. Not losing sight of the fact that we will act as custodians of this great team in the name of the citizens of Rome and all of the fans of AS Roma.”

    Source: Tuttosport, 15 February 2011.

    Reply

  3. Posted by MrFred on 2011/03/03 at 9:57 AM

    I think mr. DiBenedetto has a huge challenge behind him in Rome…The supporters are very angry with the players because players think only about their personal interests and money. People like Vucinic, Borriello, Menez or Pizarro refuse the bench ’cause they think “I’am a winning player, I’m a top player: I cannot start from the bench”. On the other side there are (top) players like Totti and De Rossi that want to impose their ideas (the last: goalkeeper Doni in better than Julio Sergio, so he must play…and coach Montella agrees…). for this reason coach Claudio Ranieri gived up. Most of them should live the team at the end of this (terrible) season if mr. DiBenedetto wants really build a great team. But it’s hard for a new president come for the first time and tell to the tifosi: “Sorry, but those players wanted to go away”. So what? I think mr DiBenedetto, who just knows this situation, and his partners have a lot of work to do… and a lot of (young) players to buy, a lot of money to spend. I really hope they have already started work on this front. It’s not only about business. Roma is a wonderful city. A city that can give a lot of “love” and passion, but also a big pressure. The people think and talk about AS Roma 7 days per week, 365 days per year…And they want to win as soon as possible. So, I want to wish to mr DiBenedetto a good luck for a huge challenge.
    A Roma fan

    Reply

    • Posted by EFG on 2011/03/03 at 10:51 AM

      I can’t argue with any of this. I can only hope that Di Benedetto’s Red Sox experience will translate somewhat to Roma in having to handle often irrational tifosi. However, when the Red Sox aren’t playing up to standards nobody is going to their training facility and writing “UNWORTHY” on the walls like he’ll see at Trigoria.

      Reply

  4. Posted by Hamdy on 2011/03/03 at 11:16 AM

    Presumably it’s a bit more than a E50 credit line?

    Reply

  5. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/03/03 at 12:34 PM

    I agree with the multplier effect, but the teams you have mentioned have been successful and had an international following for decades. You’ve mentioned Nike and adidas kitted teams being readily available, but until AS Roma become somewhat successful, I cannot see any fan without links to Rome supporting them. Let’s face it, how many US fans do you see wearing a non G14 football top?

    And re. Gabriele Marcotti’s article, you have to smile about the ‘sleeping giant’ comment.

    Reply

    • Posted by EFG on 2011/03/03 at 1:41 PM

      I agree with you 100% on that. No amount of marketing can substitute fielding a winning side. Once the results come, I think having the product (kits, etc.) more easily accessible to consumers needs to be a priority.

      Reply

      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/03/03 at 2:34 PM

        The other thing would be for the Serie A execs to do a better job of marketing / globalising Italian football in general.

        Re. success, on a tangential note, I think the FIGC needs to push the boat out to host the Euros or WC. This will perhaps act as the catalyst that is needed for stadium investment. I feel Italian clubs are falling behind economically, and the gap is widening. What are you thoughts on this?

        Also, did Serie A recently lose a CL spot?

        Reply

        • George:

          You made a very good point.

          The next Italian Super Cup will be held in China. As it was two years ago. They could also rotate the Super Cup to various continents. For example, it was held in the United States in 1993 and once thereafter.

          Fabio Capello made a similar comment last year about Italian stadia. No doubt UEFA/FIFA need to see stadium upgrades and crowd control mechanisms put into place. Especially after what occurred last year during Italy x Serbia in Genoa.

          Serie A will lose one Champions League slot in 2012/2013 to the German Bundesliga.

          Reply

        • Posted by dth on 2011/03/03 at 4:12 PM

          Here’s Honigstein on Italy losing its CL spot: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/raphael_honigstein/03/02/bundesliga-serie-a/index.html?eref=twitter_feed

          In the near-term future, I can’t see Serie A overtaking the Bundesliga: its youth development is much better, and with financial fair play coming on line, the superior fiscal responsibility of the Bundesliga (to just about everyone) should give it a decisive advantage.

          Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/03/03 at 5:18 PM

          In light of financial fair play, there’s going to be more poaching than ever. The one thing that UEFA needs to do is harmonise the contract law within its member states. For example, the age where a player can sign a professional contract differs from country to country, and the likes of Arsenal take full advantage of it.

          Reply

        • Posted by EFG on 2011/03/03 at 6:43 PM

          It is my understanding that the financial fair play limits clubs to only spending what they bring in from soccer-related revenue. I don’t see how much will change since a) everyone is running a debt and b) clubs like Real Madrid is bringing in revenue from all over the world – much more than 96% of the clubs in Europe. Wouldn’t this just give Madrid the same advantage since they can spend more than other clubs since they make more? I could be completely off base on this assessment. Please correct me if I am misinformed.

          Reply

        • Posted by dth on 2011/03/03 at 9:36 PM

          EFG, it does limit clubs spending to what revenue they make–you basically have to break even over a three-year period. For clubs like Madrid and Barcelona, that’s bad news, with the onerous debts they’ve got: they’ll have to deleverage. Since the Bundesliga clubs are basically all making a profit*, they should be in excellent shape to pick up cheap assets in what I assume will be a sell-low environment. (Another club which should be in excellent shape, especially since its revenues are so high: Arsenal. But of course Wenger refuses to make big-money transfers these days.) Anyway, you’re right that clubs like Madrid, Barcelona, United, etc. will have a durable long-term advantage because smaller clubs won’t be able to pull a Chelsea and invest large amounts of cash to pull themselves up, but there’s a long distance from the deleveraging they’ll have to do and the comfortable plutocracy they’ll get to.

          *There are like three or four German clubs between the top two divisions not making a profit. Wolfsburg are owned by VW which doesn’t give a sh*t about football club-sized losses; Hoffenheim which is owned by a billionaire; 1860 which is apparently run by idiots…and one other that I forget. (1860 has one of the better youth academies in Germany; they bring up promising players before signing a contract. With the pedigree and professional experience said promising players sign with a big club, which kicks 1860 like 500k for their troubles. The USA’s own Bobby Wood has been rumored to have attracted the interest of Koln and Schalke, for example.)

          Reply

    • Posted by Steve on 2011/03/03 at 4:14 PM

      I wear one!!

      Reply

  6. Posted by Gino on 2011/03/03 at 11:56 PM

    I have been a Roma fan for over a decade. I don’t know nearly as much as some of the other posters here, especially the financial aspects. However, I do recognize that the Giallorossi are in decline. It’s true that many of their players are long in the tooth and have seen better days. The Sensi family’s business situation has crippled the club. Apparently egos are running rampant, but that’s also true at many clubs.

    Although their situation appears bleak, the club’s supporters should take solace in that somebody (anybody really) is on the verge of taking control away from the bank and Rosella Sensi. Di Benedetto doesn’t appear to be a sheep in wolves clothing like some of the recent investors in the EPL. I haven’t read anything about him leveraging his purchase of the club with loan money. I’m hoping a change in ownership will right the Goodship Roma and bring about a reversal in their misfortunes.

    Reply

  7. Posted by EFG on 2011/03/04 at 9:47 AM

    It appears three of the topics described above are allegedly occurring: Ancelotti is speaking with Di Benedetto associates, De Rossi will be rewarded with a long-term deal following the takeover, and Vucinic is willing to listen to offers from Napoli.

    I also wonder how long before the March 17 deadline this takeover will become official. Will they wait until the 11th hour?

    Reply

    • Obviously, big coaching names will be on the horizon; however, another key person will be the transfer market guru. The new ownership group has a limited soccer background. Similar to John Henry at Liverpool, they will need to appoint and trust someone to assist them to navigate the transfer market. With the Red Sox and Celtics, they are used to a “player draft” and for colleges/high schools to develop the talent.

      Vincenzo Montella, from many quotes I have seen and translated from Italian media, seems very confident. He is realistic about his role but I sense he wants the job permanently. Many may say he lacks the requisite experience at this level, but the same was said of Pep Guardiola a few years ago.

      With regards to the 11th hour, I would say if that occurs, it would be due to the Italian legal system and not the DiBenedetto Group.

      Reply

  8. Posted by EFG on 2011/04/17 at 5:37 AM

    Woke up to this this morning, and it looks like somebody’s been reading TSG:

    “The summer could well be spent in the United States, as this takeover has sparked excitement across the Atlantic.

    ‘In the last three to four days we have received numerous calls from soccer figures in the United States,’ continued Pallotta.

    ‘They’d like Roma to do a tour here and there is astronomical interest, especially in cities like New York, Boston and Chicago. With Italian-American owners, that is sure to increase. Roma are known throughout the world.

    ‘I’d like nothing better than to see a game between Roma and Liverpool at Fenway Park,’ as both clubs are now under the umbrella of the Fenway Sports Group.”

    Or, how I spent my summer vacation

    Reply

    • Le precedenti esperienze, in altri sport, vi danno ragione. Può raccontarle?

      «Quando Tom è entrato nei Red Sox il suo obiettivo era il campionato, il titolo mancava da ottantasei anni. E c’è riuscito. Era proprio la stessa idea del mio gruppo con i Boston Celtics. Avevamo detto che in cinque anni saremmo stati campioni. E abbiamo vinto al quinto. Dieci anni fa l’ultimo scudetto della Roma. E’ un brand conosciuto in tutto il mondo. Dobbiamo riportarla alla sua storia gloriosa che merita, di tremila anni di civiltà e battaglie. Che cosa volete?».

      Ugo Trani: “The proceeding experiences in other sports, do they give you reason (to believe they’ll be successful in soccer)? Can you discuss them?”

      James Pallotta: “When Tom began with the Red Sox, his objective was the World Series, a title that was missing for 86 years. And it happened. It was the same idea of my group with the Boston Celtics. We said that in five years, we will be champions. And we won in the fifth year. Ten years ago was the last Italian league championship of AS Roma. It’s a brand known all over the world. We must bring it back to its glorious history that it deserves. From 3,000 years of civility and battles. What do you want?”

      Source: il Messagero, 17 April 2011: «Roma, parla James Pallotta:«Tom e io promettiamo lo scudetto»

      http://www.ilmessaggero.it/articolo.php?id=146040&sez=HOME_SPORT&ssez=CALCIO

      Reply

  9. [...] has already been discussed here at length, a new ownership group headed by Bostonian Thomas Di Benedetto officially took charge of [...]

    Reply

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