10 Italian change agents to watch
The American acquisition of AS Roma and the construction of Juventus Stadium ignited a revolution in the Italian sports industry over the last two years and introduced new commercial concepts and sophisticated marketing. As Italians wrestle with Roma’s idea of appreciating franchise value and with Juventus’ introduction of private facility ownership, we identified 10 companies that embrace change and are developing an industry.
— Compiled by John Genzale
The top priority for AS Roma is to get a stadium built, said CEO Italo Zanzi. His club shares the publicly owned Stadio Olimpico with rival S.S. Lazio. Built for the 1960 Olympics, the stadium is antiquated by any modern standard. Roma’s stadium ambition is the cornerstone in building a global brand, American-style. Zanzi talks about Rome as an “untapped market” and about Roma’s “internal team … generating revenue, becoming the best-in-class and building something special for the world’s most loyal fans.” As much of Serie A plods on with business as usual, Zanzi focuses on connecting with fans through VIP areas of the stadium, jersey fronts dedicated to fans (a deal with Nike kicks off in 2014), an anti-racism campaign, and a local foundation (Roma Cares).
The VIP area at Stadio Olimpico.
Stefano De Alessi, CEO of Dao Consulting, is particularly proud of selling and servicing the VIP area within Stadio Olimpico. Dao has an “exclusive partnership with Roma that allows us to sell everything for them.” De Alessi and co-CEO Edoardo Ottaviani represent the national sports federation and its current president, Giovanni Malago, and have landed large sponsors such as sports apparel maker Kappa and telecommunications company Wind. The agency also represents many of Italy’s top athletes including Olympic swimming champion Federica Pellegrini.
Infront Sports & Media and Sportfive Italia
Marketing Serie A is the most evolved and competitive segment of the Italian sports industry. Competing fiercely with Dao Consulting and with each other are two Milan-based agencies, Infront Italy, which represents AC Milan and Lazio, and Sportfive Italia, which represents Juventus.
Infront Italy President Marco Bogarelli said his company specializes in television production and media rights, and does work in animation, digital media rights, sponsorship activation and Web design. Infront represented AC Milan in the July signing of Banca Popolare di Milano to a three-year, top-tier sponsorship.
Sportfive Italia represents several Serie A clubs including hospitality at Juventus’ new stadium. Managing director Walter Crippa said, “By the end of June, all 2,500 premium seats for the season starting in August were sold and 39 of the 40 suites were leased.” (The club is saving one for a naming-rights partner, which is being marketed by Sportsfive’s sister company in Switzerland.)
Founder Roberto Ghiretti chooses cooperation rather than competition with other marketing agencies. While the others compete in Serie A, the former volleyball executive works closely with Serie B and youth sports. His Parma-based Studio Ghiretti has gained traction with companies by emphasizing social responsibility. Ghiretti said, “It soothes my soul and also opens doors” with a portfolio that includes McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Volkswagen.
Following the Juventus Stadium construction, Matt Rossetti of Detroit and Alberto Francini of Milan established architectural firm Stadia. Rossetti’s credits include Ford Field while Francini’s company, Metrogramma, is an urban master planner and sports facility designer. Rossetti said Stadia is aiming for pre-eminence when commercial pressure initiates a new era of sports facilities construction. Francini said, “We want our facilities to be the economic engine that reactivates Italian cities.” Stadia is working on feasibility studies for Fiorentina, Udinese and Siena.
|Competitors ran on a Mondo track at the London Olympics.
Mondo started in Gallo 65 years ago as a small manufacturer of sports balls and has since become the world’s largest ball manufacturer. The family-run company, founded by Edmondo Stroppiana, has diversified, literally changing the surface of sports by becoming a leading manufacturer of arena floors, track surfaces and soccer pitches. The company holds 211 patents, employs 1,500 worldwide, has installed surfaces at the last 10 Summer Olympic Games, and manufactured 38,000 seats for Juventus Stadium.
RCS Sport general manager Michele Acquarone likes big ideas. “I dream of holding a regular-season NBA game in San Siro,” he said of the 80,000-seat home of Inter and AC Milan. RCS organized the NBA’s last game in Italy, a 2012 preseason contest between the Boston Celtics and a team from Milan. RCS creates events in various sports. It promotes cycling’s Giro d’Italia by holding amateur races is cities like New York, Los Angeles and Miami. Pavarotti recordings kick off each of the races and pasta dinners conclude them.
Panini, the Modena-based collectibles company, bought out Donruss in 2009 and renewed a four-year trading-card contract with the NBA in 2012. But according to group licensing director Peter Warsop, next year’s World Cup will be the biggest business in the billion-dollar company’s history. Panini is a licensee of all four of America’s top leagues and has an exclusive agreement with FIFA. Warsop noted the popularity of trading cards in America, but said that “70 percent of our collectibles business is in sticker packets and albums.” Worldwide soccer drives that business.
Nerio Alessandri was 22 in 1983 when he founded Technogym in his garage. Now the fitness-equipment company has 2,000 employees and 6,000 customers. Technogym has retail outlets, but considers itself a business-to-business vendor. The Cesena company sells equipment to fitness clubs, hotels, corporations and sports teams, and has equipped fitness centers in each Olympic Village since Sydney 2000.
John Genzale (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the founding editor of SportsBusiness Journal and now resides in Italy.