Cash-Strapped Italy to Sell Colosseum Ad Space for Restoration

Italy is shopping for a corporate sponsor willing to shell out 25 million euros ($33 million) to refurbish the 2,000-year-old Colosseum, where gladiators once did battle.

Under terms of the contract made public on Aug. 4, the bidder will pay for 100 percent of the restoration in exchange for advertising rights and associated perks linked to Rome’s biggest tourist attraction. The Colosseum draws more than 5 million visitors a year, producing 35 million euros in ticket sales that is used for the upkeep of monuments across the city.

“This establishes a clear precedent,” Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno said in an Aug. 2 interview in his office overlooking the ancient Roman Forum and Colosseum. “We hope this method can be used for other large restoration projects.”

Italy had the European Union’s biggest debt last year at 115.8 percent of gross domestic product and last week passed 25 billion euros of spending cuts over the next two years to trim the deficit. The Culture Ministry’s budget was cut by 175 million euros for the three years through 2012, straining the country’s efforts to maintain its monuments.

While it’s common for states to reach out for private funds, as France has done for its restoration of the Versailles palace, the Colosseum marks the first time a European state has sought a sponsor to cover the full cost of a project, Francesco Giro, undersecretary at the Culture Ministry, said in an interview. Proposals will be accepted through the end of October, and the winner will hire the companies that refurbish the monument, he said. Firms from Asia to America have already indicated interest, he said.

Animal Hunts

The Roman stadium was completed in the year 80 A.D. under Emperor Titus and was the scene of mock sea battles, animal hunts and hand-to-hand combat such as those depicted in the 2000 Ridley Scott film “Gladiator,” starring Russell Crowe. Marble that once covered the stadium in Roman times was stripped by latter-day popes to adorn St. Peter’s Basilica.

Tourists and the landmark’s exposure to Rome traffic has taken a toll on the monument. The work, scheduled to begin next year and be completed by 2013, will focus on the exterior, which will be cleaned of the black soot from the exhaust of the cars that circle the monument day and night. A visitors’ center will be built, and the underground passageways where animals and gladiators were kept will be restored and opened to the public.

Logo on Tickets

The sponsor will get to put its name and logo on tickets sold to the monument, and place posters no taller than 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) around the base of the structure. The sponsor also will be able to conduct private guided tours, and will have exclusive film rights of the restoration process, Giro said.

While billboard advertising on the Colosseum won’t be permitted, Paolo Landi, general secretary of consumer group Adiconsum, is concerned the ads may ruin the monument.

The posters “won’t be allowed to block a single pilaster of the Colosseum,” Rossella Rea, director of the Colosseum, said in an interview in a gallery of the ancient stadium. “The advertising will have to be calibrated to fit the decorum of the monument.”

After the refurbishment, the entire interior will be open to visitors, compared with 35 percent today, Giro said. The Colosseum will remain open during the restoration, Rea said.

“People must continue to visit, because the income from the Colosseum pays for the maintenance costs of all the state monuments in Rome,” Rea said.

The economic crisis that is straining Italy’s budget may help lure sponsors, Giro said. The same process could be used for future restoration projects, including for the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, the imperial palace on Rome’s Palatine hill, or the Forum, he said.

“Many studies show that when there’s an economic crisis like the one we’re experiencing now, businesses seek out cultural investments to add value to their brand,” Giro said.