July 31, 2021

Italy: from Roma to La Spezia, the American dream of Serie A

With Parma and La Spezia, recently passed under the American flag, more than a quarter of the clubs in the Italian Championship now belong to owners from across the Atlantic. Their bet? Growth in TV rights and the modernization of aging stadiums.

Like Spezia-Parma on Saturday and the AS Roma-Milan shock on Sunday, Serie A is gradually getting used to the “derbies” between “American” clubs.

Because if the powerful Premier League has long been open to foreign capital (only four clubs are still British-owned), the phenomenon is more recent in Italy.

But it is growing, especially as the economic context weighed down by the coronavirus pandemic makes clubs more attentive to potential investors, believe the experts contacted by AFP.

At Roma, the American era began in 2011 with James Pallotta and continued last summer with the sale to another American businessman, Dan Friedkin.

Also flying the American flag are AC Milan (Elliott fund since 2018), Fiorentina (in the hands of the Italian-American businessman Rocco Commisso since 2019) and, since this season, Parma (the Krause group has been the majority shareholder since September) and the promoted La Spezia (acquired in February by the Platek family).

Bologna has also belonged to Canadian Joey Saputo since 2014.

– A “sleeping giant” –

AS Rome president Dan Friedkin of the United States before the Serie A match against Benevento in Rome on October 18, 2020 (AFP / Archives – Tiziana FABI)

This North American interest is based on an economic bet: an awakening of the “sleeping giant” that would be Serie A, center of the football planet in the 1980s and 1990s, now outdated, decrypts Patrick Massey, member of Portas Consulting, a British firm specialized in consulting in the field of sport.

The amount of the recent transaction for Spezia Calcio – 25 million euros according to the Italian press – is a “good example” of the current devaluation of Italian football, with regard to the value of clubs in Europe or in the northern MLS. American, believes Jordan Gardner, an American investor who has worked with several European clubs and currently boss of Danish club FC Helsingør, also American-owned.

Investors are counting in particular on a future increase in TV rights for the Italian Championship, “very far from those of the Premier League or La Liga (Spanish), in particular internationally,” explains Andrea Sartori, head of the sport sector of the audit firm KPMG.

The allocation of rights for the next three seasons is underway in Italy. The League expects a certain stability for broadcasting in Italy (970 million euros per year currently) but hopes for an increase abroad (370 million EUR).

The other expected growth lever is based on the country’s backwardness in terms of stadiums. Many are old and few clubs have their own compound (Juventus, Udinese, Sassuolo, Atalanta).

– Not just Serie A –

Fiorentina owner Italian-American Rocco Commisso before a Serie A match against Napoli on August 24, 2019 (AFP / Archives - Andreas SOLARO)

Fiorentina owner Italian-American Rocco Commisso before a Serie A match against Napoli on August 24, 2019 (AFP / Archives – Andreas SOLARO)

This dream of renovated or even new sports facilities, making it possible to significantly increase ticket sales and generate additional income, seems to be shared by all clubs under the American banner.

In Milan as in Rome, the project of a new stadium has existed for years. In Florence, Rocco Commisso has been talking about the idea of ​​a completely restored stadium since his arrival. Even if he recently assured to give it up due to administrative difficulties.

In Parma, despite the threat of relegation to Serie B, new boss Kyle Krause this week confirmed his ambition to renovate the old Tardini stadium.

In the League, if we do not prospect to attract new capital, we judge “positive” that “foreign investors are attracted by our championship, it means that there is great potential”.

The American awakening is not limited to the 1st division, Serie B clubs like Venice or Pisa, or even lower level like Catania or Campobasso, are concerned.

For all these “uncles of America”, the primary motivation remains to position themselves in a growing sport in the United States, with the prospect of the World Cup-2026 in North America (Canada, USA, Mexico).

But the tourist attraction of certain Italian cities sometimes explains these investments in lower divisions, according to Patrick Massey, as in the case of Venice which, to its worldwide fame, can in addition count this season on a team vying for the rise in Serie A (currently 3rd in Serie B).