Il Corriere dello Sport‘s Marco Evangelisti answers 10 crucial questions about Roma’s new stadium project, including whether it’s necessary for a club to own their own stadium, what is causing the constant delays to the project, and whether the club will even own it at all once it has been built.
1. Is it really fundamental for an ambitious club to own their own stadium?
In Italy, where football is essentially financed by television rights, it’s still thought not. Abroad, where people aren’t as big fantasists, the idea of owning one’s own stadium is an established idea. Moreover, the 13 richest clubs in the world all have a beautiful home of their own to host other teams in. And they continually invest in improving them. For our part, Juventus have beaten everyone else to it – and that’s hardly news – by opening the Juventus Stadium in 2011. It may be coincidence, but the club’s turnover then was around €150m and is now touching €350m. They do have prestige, technical sagacity, fine management and results behind them, but the stadium is also part of it and at Juventus they don’t forget that. The times when annual income was exclusively tied to how many people came through the gates at home matches is gone, but it still plays a part: in 2010/11 it was a little over €10m, compared to €26.3m the following year. Today it’s up to €51.5m, according to the specialists at Deloitte. Including indirect income (restaurants, premier zones, hospitality events) the estimate rises to around €55m, compared to €14m – more or less – in 2011. It’s like having a guaranteed Champions League income every year without even having to qualify for it.
2. So, without a stadium of their own, there’s no future for a club?
It would be a mistake, certainly on the club’s part, to put the question like that. At the end of the 2014/15 season, Roma were the 16th most wealthy club in the world with an income of €180.4m. This standing could even be improved, thanks to their competitive season last year when their income was over €200m. The club brought in €30.4m from the Stadio Olimpico, which isn’t bad at all. It’s also right to underline that this figure will have clearly been affected by the fans’ protests against the public safety measures put into place and against the club’s management itself. The fact remains though that Roma are one of the top 3, top 4 at worst, best placed Italian clubs in the cash flow rankings. Therefore the stadium could be considered fundamental in order to make a real step up to the next level, but maintaining a competitive squad is already an obligation for their management team. It’s also possible for them to make better use of the Olimpico, as the stadium authorities have room for manoeuvre.
3. How much effect would having their own stadium have on Roma’s balance sheet?
The parallel with Juventus could be useful in answering this question, but the two situations aren’t necessarily comparable. That is partly down to the capacity of the two grounds: 41,472 seats in the Stadium, 52,500 up to a maximum of 60,000 for the Stadio della Roma. Their estimate may be optimistic, but the club are aiming to increase their income from the stadium to €50m-60m a year. Added to that figure will be income from sponsorship, which will come from selling the stadium’s naming rights. There are many ways in which they’ll be able to make use of this new project. There are of course ticket sales but also the possibility of better organising the sale of the club’s merchandising and increasing it on a vast scale, the opportunity of creating new commercial partnerships in various areas, the sale of key areas (advertising platforms, reserved seating sectors), renting the ground out for concerts and other spectacles. One last point: Juventus’ historical exhibition at their stadium has brought in 700,000 visitors since it opened, and it’s become one of the 50 most visited Italian museums.
4. Will the stadium be owned by Roma?
That’s the thing, no. And this has been one of the project’s weaknesses right from the start. Even if keeping the club out of the planning and construction phase makes financial sense, if something goes wrong then Roma could end up elsewhere. The stadium will be owned by James Pallotta and Roma will have exclusive usufruct for 30 years starting from the date of inauguration. The usufruct won’t be free, but not even the current agreement with CONI for the use of the Olimpico is free: it’s worth around €3m a season. However, Roma would receive all the income that comes directly from the stadium and related structures, from restaurants to club-endorsed shops. Pallotta also had to include with the previous city council that he would remain linked to AS Roma and to the management of the stadium. This also has its own logic. Even if Pallotta decided to sell Roma, it would be one thing to sell just a football club, it would be another to sell a business with its own profitable and working headquarters: i.e., the stadium.
5. So in what sense would the stadium become Roma’s home?
For Pallotta, as has been said, it’s fundamental to the growth of Roma’s national and international prestige that the club can show off its own stadium. It helps to enhance the image of Roma, as well as its economic appeal. From this point of view, the identification between the squad, supporter and ground needs to be as profound as possible. That is why he wants to bring the training facilities, the so-called Nuova Trigoria, to the stadium’s shadow in Tor di Valle as well. Roma’s museum should also be built in Tor di Valle, along the same lines as what Juventus did with their own museum. Offices, pitches, television studios, radio studios, communication: everything will need to happen in and around the stadium. The idea of bringing players onto the pitch via a mobile platform, as gladiators did in the Colosseum, could be thought to be in poor taste but it also relates to the same fundamental principles. Just as the design of the stadium, carried out by the specialist architect Dan Meis, itself is.
6. And when could all of this become reality?
Who can say. We’ve already seen one delay after another, the issue of the stadium is as old as the story of the American ownership themselves, which first started in April 2011. The complexity of the initiative, the political repercussions, the same objective difficulties that are always the case in a city like Rome have all seriously slowed down the new stadium’s progress. Now there’s a new and unexpected hold up which should be resolved – note, “should” – during a new meeting between the city of Rome and the region of Lazio this week. The Conferenza dei Servizi, which is the analysis of the project by the dozen or so entities who have a say in the affairs of the capital, can’t sit on this for more than 180 days. In theory. In practice a further interruption is still possible, just one though, to request further in-depth analysis. Roma’s estimates naturally won’t change and still indicate towards starting work in the first half of 2017, and the completion of the stadium, necessary public services and the first sector of the business park in summer 2019.
7. The business park? What would that be?
The real key to the operation. It would be a completely new urban area of 12.5 hectares – the total area of Tor di Valle is 180 hectares – which will include 3 high-rise buildings, a vast commercial zone, offices, restaurants and pedestrian areas. The stadium will represent around a ninth of the total area set aside for this project. There are also 5 hectares of architectural works planned in the form of a piazza around the stadium and 63 hectares of public green spaces. With 9,000 trees and 11 kilometres of cycle paths. It’s from the sale or lease of the zones in the business park that Pallotta and his colleagues imagine that they’ll be able to bring in profits, enough to justify a private investment of €1.7bn. There’s nothing bad about it, in fact it’s completely reasonable that such a vast entrepreneurial initiative has precise economic objectives. But ultimately it’s this part of the stadium plan that is attracting the observations and the criticism of those who are against the project being completed.
8. So the stadium mainly interests Pallotta and the Roma supporters
That’s one way of looking at the question. But the previous city council, the one headed by mayor Ignazio Marino, didn’t see it that way. There’s still life in it, it’s waiting for the new administration’s decisions following its deliberation on whether or not it will sanction the project’s public interest. The Conferenza dei Servizi will need to establish whether it’s more useful to extend the Metro B line up to Tor di Valle or to improve the Roma Lido railway, or even to find other solutions to the issue of access. Also to be discussed are the upgrades of the road system around the stadium, the construction of one bridge for pedestrians and one for cars, and the public park which we’ve already talked about. Out of the €1.7bn investment, €440m will be for public infrastructure. It’s predicted that 20,000 jobs will be created in the area of Tor di Valle with salaries coming to €500m annually, and 4,000 people will also be employed during the construction phase. This, according to those who are putting the project forward, justifies the public interest.
9. And if the area of Tor di Valle is ultimately decided not to be suitable?
It would most probably be the final curtain for the project. The whole project would need to start again from scratch, including carrying out all hydrogeological surveys again. All the designs would be reworked, the public works would have to start from the beginning again under the new political and administrative bodies. That is why Roma have never taken the Tor Vergata suggestion into serious consideration, even though many people believe that is the best place for the new stadium. Tor di Valle, according to the club, is an area chosen by the experts of Cushman & Wakefield following an analysis of 80 sites. It also needs to be taken into account that the area which currently houses the hippodrome and which should house the new stadium is – right now – standing derelict, so the construction of a new football stadium and its associated structures would mean recovering a part of Rome which at the moment is a burden on the city. Of course, it isn’t certain that it’s worth the trouble: that will be decided by the local administrators and by those who are involved in the Conferenza dei Servizi.
10. What are the issues that are currently slowing down the project?
The Comune has sent the dossier presented to them by Roma and architects to the Regione, underlining various deficiencies and things that are incomplete. Essentially they concern technical aspects but also include waste management, possible side effects of the construction of the planned facilities (odours, energy consumption, temporary deforestation) and the logistics of the work site, such as the transportation of materials and the disposal of excavated materials. So far, there isn’t anything that in theory can’t be addressed in the Conferenza dei Servizi. But the real problem is political and concerns the town planning modification that 300,000 square metres of construction space are needed. There is no unanimity on this point and if this modification proves necessary then a new hearing with the Assemblea Capitolina with all the details of the case would be needed. And that would mean the Conferenza dei Servizi would be put on an indefinite hiatus, as they could only reconvene once this additional obstacle has been overcome. Ah, of course Pallotta needs to find the necessary €1.7bn to pay for it. But the club don’t seem to be worried by this aspect, and don’t forget that this is a club which has been without a main shirt sponsor for the past 3 seasons.
This article is a translation – the original was written by Marco Evangelisti for Il Corriere dello Sport.