Football Money League Analysis: Can Calcio Rebuild?

Posted Tuesday, March 02, 2010 by

Stadio Delle Alpi

The Deloitte Football Money League was published today to predictable fanfare - Real Madrid and Barcelona conquer all before them, with the monolithic Manchester United and Bayern Munich bringing to bear their vast commercial empires just behind. Symbolically, Italy's 'big three' - Juventus, Inter, and AC Milan - brought up the rear of the top ten, with Roma edging in behind in 12th.

Fans of the Italian game have in recent years begun to question the relative strength of their league, and today's rankings will only cement such fears. Gone are the days of the all-conquering, all-profitable Calcio heroes of the mid-nineties. In fact recent years - when not preoccupying us with Calciopoli - have seen Italy's top stars leave for England and (most of all) Spain. It's no wonder that, from having Juve in third place in 2005-06, Italy has fallen. All the while crumbling stadia provide a metaphor too ripe to pass up.

But it is the stadium issue that is so fascinating - and it's what could provide the key to an Italian renaissance.

We Can Rebuild It

Italian clubs are past masters of the television deal.

The most looming example of this is, of course, the Stadio delle Alpi. What should have been a monument to Calcio is instead a vast example of architectural hubris. The Alpine fortress lasted not even twenty years before being torn to the ground, mourned not. A universally-despised symbol of footballing cynicism, it looked great in panoramic photographs but offered an absolutely miserable experience for the spectator.

Juventus bought this whitest of white elephants in 2003, and promptly began to smash it up. In its stead will arise a new stadium - smaller, perhaps, but one more befitting of 21st century football and - far more importantly - built with a passing thought for the supporter.

It is this new facility that should generate the matchday income that can raise Italian clubs' standing in Europe. Ticket prices are low in Italy - a cultural matter, and one that will not change without (quite justified) protest - but a new facility befits a new model, and those who paid little to subject themselves to a view of the back of someone's head in the delle Alpi may not begrudge shelling out a little more for the privelege of a new ground - and it's one with which Juventus can do as they please. Juve are quite literally picking up their ball and going home.

For Roma, Milan, and Inter, the situation is somewhat different. Each, like Juve, has long since been a tenant of the local authority. This, on the one hand, provides a true bond between club and community. Perhaps moreso than any club on the continent, Rome are a product of their home city: one can perhaps imagine Bayern playing elsewhere in Bavaria or Juve further south, but Roma is the quintessence of Rome. It's strange, then, that the Giallorossi are seemingly eager to follow in Juve's footsteps and strike out on their own with a new, smaller stadium. The Olimpico may be grand, but here is the rub: it's expensive to rent. With control of their own destiny, their own pricing, and their own design, Roma may feel that they can nudge themselves more firmly towards that top ten. If that comes at the cost of a connection with the local council, so be it.

The Milanese twins, meanwhile, of course share one of Europe's most storied venues, the Giuseppe Meazza, or San Siro. Could they potentially work together on buying the stadium? Could they build a new one between themselves? Or even go it alone? It is a topic that begs further examination but it's one that, for all its unlikeliness on paper, may earn serious consideration if Berlusconi and Moratti examine the Juve case more closely. Of course, there is talk of a redevelopment (with pricing to match) of the famous old stadium in time for Euro 2016, but that's part of the problem with municipal stadia: for all Inter's determination to fire up the cement mixer and help out, the clubs simply do not control their own destiny in this matter. A change in the political climate and there may not be a shovel raised in anger after all.


This is a problem for the Calcio fan, as Italy needs to move fast. It needs, in fact, to move immediately, at least from the perspective of the top clubs.

Juventus' pitiful matchday income does not prevent their place in the Top 20 by sole virtue of their broadcasting deal with Mediaset. As befits a team that draws its fanbase from every nook and cranny of the peninsula, Juventus have one of the most profitable television deals in the country, and are responsible, too, for huge television deals abroad. Milan's connection with the ubiquitous medium is well-known; Inter's recent successes have earned them a fanbase far beyond the local.

But each club - not to mention Roma, whose reliance on TV is somewhat less pronounced - will soon need to slice up their pie that bit more generously, as next season Serie A returns to collective bargaining over its TV deals. With sixteen other clubs at the table, there is scope for equality: that means that the bigger boys lose out.

For Juve, then, the building of a new stadium, compact though it is, is beginning to look like great business sense, particularly if they can earn sufficient money from the corporate brigade. For Roma, it's a path worth following. As for Milan and Inter? Well, they're still in the top ten, and still command vast commercial empires, not least in the red and black half of the city. But a new approach absolutely must be considered, for when even crowds of 55,000 fail to bring a top five spot, surely something is amiss.

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