LONDON, (Reuters) – AS Roma’s American owners see a return to the Champions League next season as only the the first step in creating a club that can compete regularly with the best in Europe.
Roma are seeking to follow the example of Italian rivals Juventus by building a new stadium of their own that would boost matchday revenues and create new commercial opportunities to host events like concerts.
Roma, controlled by the Boston-based Raptor Group, are already blazing a trail as one of the few leading Italian soccer clubs that are under foreign ownership.
“I think we clearly bought an extremely undervalued asset. At the end of the day, it’s Rome, one of the greatest cities ever,” said Raptor founder James Pallotta, who has been club chairman for the past two years.
Raptor have spent a reported $160 million to build a majority stake in the club.
Pallotta, a board member of the Boston Celtics NBA team, said Roma had a passionate fan base in the Italian capital as well as a large global following that it had previously failed to tap into.
Roma’s brand will get a boost next season after they guaranteed second place in Serie A and a Champions League spot with a weekend win over Fiorentina. A new kit supply deal with Nike will also kick in from next season. There are signs that other foreign investors are prepared to get involved in Italian soccer which has been blighted by hooliganism and match-fixing scandals in recent seasons.
“Italian football was number one and I think it will start getting back there when people see what Juventus has done, what we are trying to do with the stadium,” said Pallotta in a telephone interview.
“When you look at Italy, there are a good six to eight teams that can be fairly competitive over the next few years,” he added, saying that should fuel commercial interest and help Italian clubs to compete with the best in Europe.
Roma have won the Italian league title three times, most recently in 2001, and look destined to finish as runners-up this season behind Juventus, although they could still win the title if the defending champions slip up in their remaining games.
Indonesian investors have bought a majority stake in Inter Milan while city rivals AC Milan, owned by the Berlusconi family, are also seeking to woo foreign capital.
For Pallotta, the priority is to push ahead with plans to build a 52,500-capacity stadium that would cost about 300 million euros ($413.90 million) and could be ready for the 2016-17 season.
“If we can get that built in the time that we think we can we have a huge advantage on a lot of other teams, not just in Italy but a big advantage vis-a-vis other teams in Europe,” he said.
Stadium ownership is seen as a crucial issue in Italian football and one of the main reasons the country’s clubs have fallen behind their European rivals.
Most clubs play in oversized municipal stadiums, many of which are in a dilipidated state and lack atmosphere with the fans scattered around vast swathes of empty seats.
Since opening their own stadium in 2011, Juventus have won two successive Serie A titles and they have a 100 percent home record in the league this season.