Italy's `Old Lady' of Soccer Strives to Return to Past Glory With Stadium

The “Old Lady” of Italian soccer is betting a facelift will return her to past glories.

Juventus, winner of a record 27 domestic league titles, moves into a new 41,000-seat stadium next season built to boost revenue and renew the drive for European honors. The Turin team, known as La Vecchia Signora, or Old Lady, hasn’t won a trophy since a 2006 corruption scandal led to it being stripped of its last two championships.

“Every club understands that it needs to build higher revenues because this will be the key to being competitive in the future, being able to pay high salaries and therefore attract the best players,” Juventus Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Blanc said in an interview.

With European clubs’ losses doubling to more than 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion) in 2009, the continent’s soccer governing body UEFA has warned teams they face bans from the elite Champions League in 2014 unless they rein in spending to match revenue.

The privately financed 105 million-euro stadium is on the northwest outskirts of Turin on the site of the old Stadio delle Alpi, where Juventus formerly played. It’s the first built by an Italian team in more than 20 years and will give Juventus the advantage of being the only Serie A team to own its stadium. The facility is expected to boost revenue by as much as 40 million euros, according to Giorgio Brambilla, sales and marketing director for Germany-based research company Sport+Markt.

Del Piero

Juventus fans will have to change their viewing habits for the club to reach its target. The two-time European champion claims to be Italy’s most popular team with 12 million supporters, yet the club’s average attendance at its current home, the 28,000-capacity Stadio Olimpico in the south of the city, is 21,000. That’s about 30,000 fewer than Italian and European champion Inter Milan and ranks 11th among Serie A’s 20 teams.

Unlike the Stadio delle Alpi, the new structure is purpose- built for soccer. It won’t have a running track, a feature that die-hard fans disliked for reducing the atmosphere at games. The former ground rarely filled its almost-70,000 capacity. The Guardian reported that just 237 fans witnessed an Italian Cup match with Sampdoria there in the 2001-02 season.

Performances on the field must improve if Juventus is to fill the new stadium, said Alan Switzer, a director at London- based accountant Deloitte LLP’s Sports Business Group. The team captained by Alessandro Del Piero failed to make the Champions League after finishing seventh in Serie A last year, and is in eighth place after 23 games this season. It lost 2-1 at Palermo two days ago.

Agnelli Family

“You get a new stadium effect in the short term but if the performance doesn’t get better you see a waning off,” Switzer said.

Securing an additional 40 million euros would be equivalent to what Juventus, already the biggest earner in Italy, would make for reaching the final of the Champions League. Fueled by some of the highest television revenues in the league, Juventus generated 240 million euros of sales in the year ended June 2010, 11 percent more than Inter Milan, whose 69 million-euro loss was about seven times Juventus’s deficit. With a share price of 88 euro cents, Juventus has a market value of 177.4 million euros.

Juventus, controlled by the Agnelli family, the majority investor in carmaker Fiat SpA, generates 8 percent of income from its stadium. Higher sales may bring it closer to teams in England’s Premier League. Arsenal’s income from the 60,000-seat Emirates Stadium, which opened in London in 2006, was 93.9 million pounds ($152 million) last season.

Revenue Gain

Revenue has been boosted further thanks to a 12-year, 75 million-euro deal that Blanc secured two years ago with SportFive, allowing the Geneva-based marketing company to sell naming rights to the new stadium. Talks with Asian and European companies over a 6 million-euro to 7 million-euro per season deal have yet to yield an agreement. About 70 percent of the new stadium’s 4,000 premium seats have been presold, Blanc added.

The 47-year-old came to Juventus following a boardroom shakeup in the wake of the corruption scandal that led to the team’s demotion to the second tier for the first time in its 113-year history. The team returned to Serie A after a season, and finished third and second in its first two campaigns back in the top league.

Blanc revamped Juventus’s marketing operation by asking a reduced number of sponsors to pay more for exclusivity. Brambilla said Juventus has about 12 core partners, fewer than half the number that adorn LED advertising boards around the stadiums of Serie A rivals.

“Blanc’s done very well even if the team hasn’t performed so well,” Brambilla said.

Reorganization

The recent on-field struggles led to another reorganization in May. Blanc lost his role as chairman to Andrea Agnelli and Juventus hired Giuseppe Marotta from Sampdoria to oversee personnel moves following the failure of expensive acquisitions such as Brazilian-born duo Diego and Amauri. Supporters criticized Blanc, who previously organized tennis’s French Open and cycling’s Tour de France, for his lack of experience in soccer.

Blanc said he’s unsure he’ll remain with the team when his five-year contract expires later this year.

“With the delivery of the new stadium, a lot will have been accomplished in the last few years,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tariq Panja in the London newsroom on at tpanja@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net.

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