The head of a group of American investors who bought AS Roma says the Italian soccer team has identified potential sites for a new stadium it hopes to build before the country hosts the 2016 European Championship.
Thomas DiBenedetto, a partner in Boston Red Sox owner New England Sports Ventures, and investors including hedge fund manager James Pallotta teamed up with Italy’s bank UniCredit before completing a deal to buy 67 percent of the three-time champion of Italy’s Serie A in August for 60 million euros ($83 million). The team plays Rome rival Lazio in two days.
“We have more meetings coming up but I believe there are potentially a couple of sites that are viable,” DiBenedetto said in an interview at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium. “Ideally the earliest you could be talking is three years from now but more likely five years.”
DiBenedetto, whose father moved to the U.S. from Italy as a 16-year-old, believes a new stadium is vital for the club’s success on and off the field. Juventus this season opened a new 40,000-seat stadium to become the only one of Italy’s top teams to own its own facility. Roma and Lazio rent the Stadio Olimpico from the country’s Olympic Committee. The stadium seats 72,000 and fans are separated from the field by a running track, a common feature in Italian stadiums.
Roma generated 31 million euros from ticket sales last year -- about $115 million less than English Premier League teams Arsenal and Manchester United, which make almost $5 million per game. Roma attracted an average crowd of 33,628 last season, according to league statistics.
“It’s become quite critical to have an experience at your stadium or ballpark that is special,” said DiBenedetto sitting in a suite overlooking Chelsea’s soccer field. “You have to create an experience and if you don’t, people are not going to come. I think that’s happened to certain extent in Italy.”
Wherever Roma end up playing, supporters are going to be much closer to the action. “You look out here and the closeness of the seats, it’s a different experience so the passion of the fans grows and its exhilarating for you to cheer for your home team and that in turn has a big impact on the players,” he said.
Roma posted a net loss of 30.6 million euros on sales of 124 million euros for the fiscal year ended June 2011 after having a 21 million euro loss a year earlier. The team’s financial performance in recent years has been determined by its participation in the Champions League, European soccer’s elite competition.
“Our goal is to balance our books without making the Champions League,” says DiBenedetto. “So therefore if we make the Champions League it’s a major bonus for us.”
NESV, led by John W. Henry, bought 18-time English champion Liverpool last year. The team has a global fanbase that dwarf Roma’s. Although DiBenedetto has small stake in the Premier League club he won’t be able to tap its commercial team’s expertise.
“The way we work is my knowledge now of Liverpool is solely what’s known to the public,” said the Roma president. “I do not participate in any meetings where Liverpool’s discussed if it’s part of a NESV meeting. When Liverpool comes up I recuse myself.”
The 62-year-old found himself mobbed when he arrived in Rome to complete the takeover in August. Rome’s newspaper continue to write about him and the takeover.
“It’s a new experience for me and I’m someone who really doesn’t like to be public, now all of a sudden I’m a public figure at least in Rome,” he said. “I’m surprised how intense it has been, yes. I thought it would be a lot but I never anticipated it would be like this.”