SBJ/March 19-25, 2012/Franchises

Disney deal gives Roma presence in U.S.

Nearly a year after acquiring AS Roma, a group of American investors has cut a deal to bring the Italian soccer club to the U.S. to train for the next five years.

AS Roma will become the club in residence at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and will spend a week every winter training in Orlando. Under terms of the five-year deal, Roma will receive signage at the facility, host clinics, play an annual friendly and bring its youth team over for Disney Soccer Showcase. It will pay Disney a rental fee but keep ticket revenue and broadcast rights fees from its annual friendly match.

The agreement is central to the American owners’ vision for building global awareness of Roma. The club is looking to raise awareness in Asia and North America. It plans to play international friendlies in Asia every other year and, as a result of the Disney deal, will have a year-round presence in the U.S.

“There isn’t a better family entertainment brand to partner with,” said Roma interim CEO Mark Pannes, whose RaptorAccelerator company helped put together the group that bought Roma last year. “To be a team in residence is great for brand building. It’s also a great recruiting tool for players because we’ll encourage players to bring their families.”

Roma was bought for $91.8 million last April by a group led by Thomas DiBenedetto, a finance executive and investor in Fenway Sports Group. The club last year generated $187.5 million, according to Deloitte Football Money League, an
annual report on soccer club finances. Average attendance fell last year by 15 percent to 34,665.

Chelsea Football Club signed a similar agreement with Disney in 2007. That four-year deal made Chelsea the official soccer club of the complex and presenting sponsor of Disney Soccer Showcase, a youth soccer tournament.

Unlike Chelsea, Roma plans to bring its first team over to train at the Disney complex. The sessions will be open to the public. Roma and Disney are in talks about employees at the soccer complex wearing Roma apparel. Its apparel will be for sale at the complex.

Pannes said that Roma will judge the success of the partnership on merchandise sales and digital traffic to Roma’s website in the U.S. The club also hopes to expand its partnership to other markets with Disney theme parks.

“We hope we’ll be able to grow a relationship that makes it a global partnership,” Pannes said.
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