Serie A expert Eric Giardini is just that. Here, on Roma
This past week marked the 2011 version of the Leaders in Football conference which, according to its website, was created to provide a “networking environment in order to bring together football’s most important leaders to share knowledge, best practice and ideas.”
Held this year at Stamford Bridge in London, the two-day conference brought together luminaries (Pierluigi Collina and Fabio Cannavaro) and those that well often detested (Kia Joorabchian on what it’s like to be a player adviser).
Sporting KC’s own Robb Heineman was a part of the workshop on how to “Deliver the Ultimate Fan Experience.” Based on everything I’ve seen and heard recently about what is going on in Kansas City, I have no doubts that he was a valued speaker to have.
One presentation in particular stuck out to me and it came from the “Chairmen & Owners: Mad, Sad or Saving the Game?” presentation.
Four owners and chairmen participated: Niall Quinn, Chairman, Sunderland; Peter Coates, Owner, Stoke City FC; Bruce Buck, Chairman, Chelsea FC; and Thomas Di Benedetto, President & Chairman, AS Roma. Obviously, I focused on what Di Benedetto had to say.
Di Benedetto spoke briefly on his thoughts of having purchased the club and the on-the-field changes that have been made in Rome. Most interesting to me, however, was his discussions about what was occurring behind the scenes. He stated that “We (Roma) are in favor of Financial Fair Play” and that they (Roma) are looking stateside, as “the U.S. market is a great opportunity.”
To tap into the U.S. market, he went on to explain that Roma “are working to close agreements with major U.S. teams [and] we have agreements with youth teams in five states.” While he did not elaborate or divulge any details on what those, presumably, MLS clubs are, or the states of the youth teams, this shows a clear intent to tap into the American market.
While having partner agreements with MLS clubs would be a new concept for Serie A, it will only be the latest in a line of European-American soccer club partnerships.
2006 saw the 10-year agreement between Spanish super club Real Madrid and MLS’ Real Salt Lake that saw the development of a Madrid-funded youth academy and a biannual agreement for Madrid to play a friendly in Utah. Unfortunately, this agreement was not upheld as Madrid backed out of the 2008 friendly citing financial reasons.
In 2007, the Colorado Rapids and Arsenal FC announced an agreement between the two clubs. This agreement saw the establishment of the Arsenal Center of Excellence at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and the creation of the youth Arsenal Cup. The two clubs exchange best practices and the Rapids conduct a portion of their preseason training at Arsenal’s training ground.
In 2008, Tottenham, not to be outdone by their North London rivals, established a partnership with the San Jose Earthquakes. This agreement sees the exchange and implementation of best practices and provides an outlet for Tottenham to expand its American presence. This relationship, unlike the Arsenal-Colorado agreement, actually seems to be a mutualistic symbiotic one with San Jose making multiple trips to London to train, Tottenham playing a friendly last summer in San Jose, and the loan of Simon Dawkins to the Earthquakes from Spurs. (Just how bad would the Quakes be without the creativity of Dawkins in the middle? Don’t answer that.)
New York Red Bulls are part of the Red Bull Soccer conglomerate whose members also include Red Bull Salzburg (Austrian First Division), Red Bull Brasil (Brazilian Second Division), Red Bull Ghana (Ghanaian Second Division), RB Leipzig (German Fourth Division). There is also the obvious Chivas USA and Chivas de Guadalajara partnership. In 2006, Crystal Palace took the partner club idea one step further with the formation of Crystal Palace USA (later renamed to Crystal Palace Baltimore) before the clubs parted ways in 2010 following Crystal Palace going into administration.
So what does this mean for Roma? The model on how to foster and develop a successful partnership is there (San Jose-Tottenham) and by all accounts Di Benedetto and his group seem willing to take lessons learned from other clubs and build upon them.
The benefits for Roma are self-evident: greater visibility in America, future player development in terms of possible loan deals, and the economic benefits that come with playing friendlies in the States. Conversely, a partnership with Roma should be quite appealing to a MLS club. Roma is a club with a storied history full of iconic players that have donned the Giallorossi shirt. Roma is the fifth most supported club in Italy and have thousands fans worldwide. Trigoria, Roma’s training ground, is undergoing a facelift and should rival those of the other big clubs in Europe.
So what clubs could the Roma brass be looking at for potential partnerships? I think looking at the New England Revolution as a potential partner is a possibility but a little lazy. Sure, the new group is comprised of born and bred Bostonians but nothing seems to be going right with the Revolution at the moment (stadium issues, highly publicized supporter/front office battles, etc.) so it may be best to hold off on any long-term arrangements.
One club, which I was not on my radar until this afternoon, that I think would be a great fit would be the Philadelphia Union. The Union only entered my thinking when I received an email earlier today from the Philadelphia Eagles, on behalf of Lincoln Financial Field with a survey of how likely I would return to the stadium based on teams available.
Next to Manchester United, Barcelona, and AC Milan on the list, there was Roma. Had I not read Di Benedetto’s remarks earlier in the afternoon, I just would have dismissed the fact that Roma was on the list. Instead, I sat and wondered if there were/are some behind the scenes deals going on between the clubs.
Philadelphia has all the makings of a club that can grow and be successful not only when looking at on the field results but also off the field. The results have been with Philadelphia this season as they sit only one point back from the top of the Eastern Conference and look primed for a playoff run. In addition, the Union has their own, new soccer-specific stadium and a passionate fan base. An Italian club would also be compatible with the population base in the greater Philadelphia/South Jersey area – a factor that can’t be overlooked or understated.
What clubs Roma are talking to, if any, remains to be seen. With the new, seemingly sweeping changes that the club has made this week off the field (Facebook page, Twitter account, and assurances of a website overhaul) in its attempts to play “catch up” with the other big clubs in Europe, it seems that it would only be a matter of time before it reached out to new markets as the big English and Spanish sides have done. Making a serious run into the MLS market, through a robust, dynamic partnership with a MLS side (be it the Union or another), would be the biggest signal of intent thus far that the club is ready to shake its old, provincial mindset in favor of being a global brand.