The deadline for January 2019’s ‘final decision’ on the Stadio della Roma has been extended, and we wanted to give you an update on where the stadium stands. This post will have very little to do with football, so I wouldn’t blame you if you just skipped right past it.
We’ve done our best to keep it simple and capture all the pressures that lurk in the background of Roma’s new stadium project. Yet none of this post gives answers to straightforward questions like: Will the stadium be approved? When? Will the stadium really ever be built in Tor di Valle at all? We don’t know.
We can only give a timeline by which the regional Lazio goverment has to make a decision on the extended (of the extended of the extended...) deadline by which to green light the stadium or not, and details on the key players in this game.
The TL:DR version: Roma’s 2.0 stadium plans have been approved for over a year now with the local Rome authority. But final green light comes from the regional Lazio authority giving their seal of approval too. And this decision is being scrutinised to the death (or to the extremes of the 300-day deadline extension — as is common with Italian bureaucracy) amid broken promises, double standards and alleged bribery.
Mayor Virginia Raggi claims an independent review from a Turin-based consultant should clear everyone of any bad faith, and collectively get the first brick laid on the ground in 2019.
Others point out Raggi went on record in 2014 as being against the project from the start, while newspapers like Il Messagero remind us that Raggi comes from a family of Lazio fans. Either way, the independent review from Turin is predictably taking longer than expected.
So how did we get here? And why is Rome so worried about the new stadium project serving the needs of the few over the many? Read below for the long version.
Fear and Loathing in Testaccio
Roma has built up and torn down sites around the city from the club’s very inception in 1927, leaving the city itself to pay. Empty stadia have littered the eternal horizon for decades now, even if the city’s fanaticism has not waned.
First came Silvio Sensi’s (of the same Sensi family) idea for A.S. Roma to own her own 20,000-seat stadium — the Campo Testaccio — that would allow Roma to move out of Lazio’s own Stadio della Rondinella in 1929. It all sounded like destiny for club and city, but the stadium was abandoned just 11 years later.
A similar fate awaited the 40,000-seat Stadio Flaminio (that Roma played in 3 different times throughout her history under various names attached to the Flaminio stadium area) now sitting completely abandoned just a walk away from Roma’s current home at the Stadio Olimpico.
Ever since both Roma and Lazio moved to the 73,000-seat Olimpico, they’ve been at the mercy of sharing ticket revenue with national stadium owners CONI. The limits imposed on the clubs don’t just stop at money concerns, but deeper social issues.
Chief among those troubles is the club’s inability to manage the matchday experience without having to go through the Questure — or local authorities — to do so. If you need an example of how damaging this can be, look at the real reasons why nothing will be done to finally confront the latest Kalidou Koulibaly-sparked racism row.
Despite 2017-legislated powers in Italian football to deny any individual access to stadia, clubs maintain under-the-table relationships with ultra capos. Clubs fear the responsibility of following through on setting up in-stadium surveillance that would allow the private banning of individual offenders in the curve. This fear and hypocrisy extends to the local authorities involved in the process too, for as long as Italy’s stadiums remain publicly-owned (though the Agnellis have shown that not even a privately-owned stadium gives them the conviction needed to confront the problem).
This hypocrisy makes the empty rhetoric of ‘we stand against racism’ look like exactly that — empty rhetoric. No regular matchday fan is going to take a club’s social stance seriously when that very same club is implicitly OK with handing over the right to incite violence within the neighbourhood.
It is believed that Pallotta’s Roma are one of the few clubs in Italy to make moves in confronting this issue. But we’ll see how long that lasts.
Then there are other business concerns for Roma: the club’s inability to set up a club store, club museum or Hall of Fame on site, to up-sell matchgoing fans on their initial ticket purchase. And finally there’s the sensation of an Olimpico match itself; the all-purpose stadium (with athletics running track) just isn’t suited to a day out watching football. West Ham fans’ suffering the move to East London’s Olympic Stadium can tell you all about that issue.
And so comes James Pallotta, in 2011, with his brand-new idea of Roma owning a home to themselves. Except the idea wasn’t that new; it simply revived Dino Viola’s vision for the club in the 1980s - a vision now revamped and pumped with steroids by Pallotta’s era.
A Stadium Project Barely About The Stadium
The problem with Pallotta reviving Dino Viola’s original plans for the club — an 86,000-seat club-owned stadium to be built in the Magliana area but later moved to the outer city limits of Romanina — was that the times and finances had changed.
In fact, the level of money that Roma football club was operating on at the time of Pallotta buying the club barely justified putting forward plans to build any kind of a stadium. So he had to juice the project up to a level where people rightfully have concerns over what in the hell this has to do with A.S. Roma and the city of Rome. Aside from the fact Pallotta wants to reduce the stadium capacity to around 60,000, everything else his project proposes is a huge demand on space and funding.
Viola’s 1980s answer to funding a new-build stadium - using “no public funds” - was to milk the fans in attendance. Viola wanted to raise both matchday and season ticket prices (the precedent has already been set under Silvio Sensi when opening the Testaccio) and Viola wanted to sell multiple-year season tickets to the most eager and aflluent Roma fans. James Pallotta made a similar “no public funds” promise when putting forward the plans for Stadio della Roma, but the stadium itself only accounts for 10% of the land Pallotta’s group wants to build on (and just 7% of the actual costs needed to complete the whole project).
So why does Pallotta want nearly 200 hectares of land in Tor di Valle - labelled Roma’s “second lung” - to erect his empire?
The problem goes back to how little money Roma makes as a club, and what partners Pallotta needed on board to get a private investment bank backing his project. The entire Tor di Valle stadium project is similar - or you could say near-exact - to the newly-announced stadium complex that Feyenoord look to build in Rotterdam.
Feyernood’s plan is to vacate the old stadium, turn it into apartment complexes (like Arsenal did with Highbury after moving to the Emirates Stadium) and have a bridge built between new and old site that would work as an entertainment village like L.A. Live in America.
At the heart of L.A. Live’s 24/7 ecosphere is the Staples Center - home to the LA Lakers, Clippers, Kings and other franchises - and designed by architect Dan Meis. Its no coincidence that Pallotta - like any good venture capitalist - got Meis on board as a key principal for the Stadio della Roma project. This is just how Pallotta’s vision works, and how he’s able to get over 500 billion euros backing from Goldman Sachs behind a joint-venture that is coupled up with A.S. Roma - a publicly-floated club earning less than 10 percent of the investment needed into Rome’s project. The Tor di Valle complex (shopping centre, business park and all) is said to be worth 1.6 billion euros of investment into the Rome economy within the first 6 years of coming to life.
Anyone would sensibly question the Pallotta group’s motivation here. Far smaller promises have historically failed in their grandeur within Rome’s city limits.
Is faith and fanaticism in A.S. Roma really worth another gamble of public trust? Surely this is just another project that will be abandoned or sold for parts? And how can Rome’s present-day socialist mayor justify handing over the “urban desert” Tor di Valle to be bricked over with cement?
Roma have gone out of their way to make the project look sexy to the public, with a number of promises that are so extensive it’ll make your head spin.
They want to re-do a green-energy-powered train riding through Tor di Valle’s Metro B station. They want a cycle-friendly bridge across the River Tiber that would connect the new stadium with the Magliana region where Viola wanted to build his own project back in the 80s. They want a direct route built to Rome’s Fiumicino airport that means matchday fans can travel in and out of Rome within 20 minutes each way. It’s easy to see how the last aim is clearly Pallotta’s group looking to sell tickets to the wealthy elite travellers of the world, and gradually phase out both the ultras and middle class fans of present-day football to stay at home and watch it on TV.
Opponents of the ‘European Super League’ idea justifiably point out to the obvious threat to the current fanbase. But A.S. Roma made sure to reaffirm their identity as a sporting association, and not just a TV-driven promotion on the men’s side of professional sport. The club brought the professional women’s team into the fold in 2018, and moved the Primavera and Allievi teams (along with the women’s team) back into the renovated 4,000-seater Stadio Tre Fontane from 2016 onwards.
Then there are further promises of business within the community to embrace the pain of change. 20,000 daily jobs are promised in the A.S. Roma Business Park, and 4,000 new inhabitants would take up apartment space in the Tor di Valle complex. A number of these moves are tied back to the club’s ultimate goal: becoming a self-sustaining business in global football.
Raggi Caught Between Rock And Hard Place
In November 2018, the city’s own Sapienza Universita di Roma released an annual public survey claiming the city of Rome ranks 85th in the country for standard of living, falling a massive 18 places down the list in just 1 year on Raggi’s watch. Raggi was publicly grilled on TV show La Sette for what her interviewer lamented as constantly “hiding behind the environment excuse” as a reason for going backwards. A 1 billion euro boost to the economy - by pushing through the Tor di Valle project - looks like Raggi’s best way to save her legacy in Rome.
She’s caught between a rock and hard place, but her compromises to placate all sides haven’t satisfied anyone and just left her office - and the Stadio della Roma itself - open to attack. After the 1.0 masterplan was rejected in 2016, Raggi pushed Pallotta’s group for a 33% reduction of the landspace asked by the project, and its now said these reductions would make certain promises - like the connection to the airport and the bridges across the Tiber - pointless (though many of these claims are made by Raggi’s political opponents to stir up controversy for its own sake).
Either way, the current climate in Rome looks as though no one’s heart is really invested in seeing a stadium built in Tor di Valle itself. Not even those who’d look to argue for the sake of political points can bring themselves to back the project out of spite, so doubt hovers over the reality of this Tor di Valle dream regardless of Raggi’s public claim that it will go ahead in 2019. Perhaps most damaging of all was the Tor di Valle’s landowner caught on wiretap telling Raggi’s own MS5 party consultant to “keep it to himself” when it was brought up that the River Tiber bridges would do nothing but make congestion worse in Rome.
That landowner is Luca Parnasi, a second-generation construction head who’s been rebuffed in Milan when Parnasi tried to buy his way into AC Milan’s Stadio di Milano project in 2018. On the very same wiretaps in Rome - all coming about because of the “Operation Renaissance” sting operation setup to smoke out Parnasi and his “80s methods” of doing business (read:bribery) - the MS5 party consultant jokingly told Parnasi he could “get away” with the Stadio della Roma deal because Rome was the land of ‘Rometta’ (a disparaging term for the football club’s struggles throughout the sixties and seventies) and the so-called softness of Roma director Mauro Baldissoni.
A.S. Roma have gone out of their way to prove Parnasi’s business has no link with the club beyond his ownership of the Tor di Valle land awarded to Parnasi in 2013.
Those same 2017 laws granting clubs the power to deny matchday access to any individual they want? Roma draconically banned radio-personality Furio Focolari from the first home game of the 2018/19 season against Atalanta “and any future events promoted by the club”.
The rumoured offence was Focolari mentioning a story where Baldissoni was confronted in mid-May 2017 for gifting matchday tickets to a go-between of Parnasi and the MS5 party. The war between the club and its local radio stations stays at pantomine levels as always, but Pallotta’s intention to push forward with the club’s stadium goal is as concrete as ever.
James Pallotta is currently busy raising 100 million euros to buy the Tor di Valle land off Parnasi’s group and remove any trace of Parnasi from the Stadio della Roma construction. If Pallotta is to succeed in making Roma a self-sustaining club for the first time in its history, he never had any intention of sharing that glory with an Italian constructor muscling his way into the picture at the eleventh hour. The clock is ticking down on the biggest commitment yet to come.
30-Year Commitment To Roma As A Global Club
Pallotta has built the entire business so that the club cannot make real profits without the stadium complex, and the stadium complex cannot make any real profits without the club. He’s signed a 30-year agreement with the city to not break up the entire A.S. Roma business for parts, under the cost of penalty (a penalty that amounts to around 86 million euros). While it’s still possible Pallotta could sell off the business for parts in theory (or sell off the entire business to an unscrupulous owner who’d do it in his place), realistically it’s been made an ugly idea for anyone who’d even want to try.
To own Tor di Valle’s entertainment ecosphere without AS Roma’s involvement would realistically make you 4 million euros a year in the absolute best case scenario (going off virtual models in the A.S. Roma stadium bid prospectus) while you’d be stuck paying off the Goldman Sachs 500 million loan and the 86 million penalty owed to the city of Rome for breaking the 30-year agreement. It’s just not worth it. The club comes as a total package or nothing.
This is a package to put Roma on the same level as a Juventus or Bayern Munich of the globe. Football’s wealthiest 11 clubs account for over 65% of the total revenue made in the footballing world today. Roma wants to join that elite group but needs a commercial business outside of the football club to complement it, much like Juventus have the Agnelli’s power of the FIAT Group or Bayern Munich have the power of the Audi/VW Group and Deutsche Telekom to expand themselves into inflated commercial, shirt and stadium deals.
A 24/7 entertainment village may not be the same volume business as cars or telephony, but the volume is there in the streets of Rome itself: the people travelling through the world’s number 1 tourist destination are what Pallotta wants to draw into the gates of A.S. Roma.
And so the
Qatar Airways Arena Stadio della Roma 2.0 revised masterplan won approval in late 2017 by local goverment, and here we stand today (still) waiting for it to be approved at a regional level by the wider Lazio authority over a year later. The biggest concerns - raised by the sting operation on Parnasi and the question of public interest being served - are being dealt with by Turin’s independent consultant report.
The unofficial excepts leaked from that Turin report sound against the whole project’s viability, especially the leaked opinion that the stadium’s bridge access (the very issue Parnasi told local government consultants to keep quiet about) would only pollute and congest Rome, rather than support the city environment.
It remains to be seen whether Raggi, Pallotta or anyone else can somehow swerve that report into a positive green light to go ahead on this Tor di Valle stadium complex, by public means or otherwise.