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Stadio Della Roma: What’s The Wait in 2020?

Through many delays, the Stadio Della Roma decision is now coming to a place where there’s no turning back.

XXV International Marathon Of Rome - Press Conference Photo by Andrea Ronchini/NurPhoto via Getty Images

We last took a deep-dive into the Stadio della Roma bid over a year and a half ago, and have since held off our publishing guns through many supposed-to-be-news-but-not-really news updates that would have done nothing but waste your time and emotional energy. Nonetheless, even the most skeptical among us have to face the fact that the Stadio della Roma decision is now moving into new waters, with one of only two possible key announcements left that could land as early as this Monday.

Last time around, we gave you a lot of background behind the weight of such a decision, for both Roma and the city of Rome. Now it’s time to focus on the remaining players—James Pallotta (AS Roma), Virginia Raggi (Movimento 5 Stelle) and the Eternal City itself—left in the game, and what motivates them to either green-light or sink the Stadio della Roma project once and for all.

The Club That Needs A Home

A.S. Roma and Genoa CFC : Italian Serie A Photo by Cladio Pasquazi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

I want to begin with a simple premise, and you’ll have to excuse the language but let’s really get on the same page here: Imagine a world in which A.S. Roma can go f*** itself.

Or, to really get to the point, specifically the A.S. Roma men’s team. Because, though we’re writing about them week-on-week, they are—emotionally, and in terms of impact on people’s lives—the least important piece in this picture. Though I’m sure escapists will feel differently, Roma has built upon itself as a club of substance on several community fronts.

Since Pallotta’s group took over A.S. Roma in 2011, they have proven to be the right regime to move the club—albeit slowly and falling behind on several of their own self-imposed deadlines—into the modern era.

Just take a quick recap on some of Roma’s milestones during the Age of Pallotta:

  • Revamped the youth structure from the Pulcini category all the way to U-19 level, with multiple trophies won at all levels of sport in the last decade.
  • Won the league in at least four different categories (U-15, U-17 and U-19) over the last decade, while Roma consistently ranked as one of the top 3 clubs in the land (in some seasons, outright leaders) to feed academy players into the Italian professional leagues every season.
  • One of the few clubs to immediately set up an U-18 men’s team when the chance finally came in 2019.
  • Immediately setup women’s senior and youth teams when the chance finally came in 2018, offering a way into the game for the annual talent pool of over 25,000 aspiring female youth players around the country.
  • Installed matchday security measures that became the new standard around Serie A, in a decade where Serie A audiences finally started rising again, albeit inconsistently.
  • Installed a Hall of Fame and finally paid official recognition to club legends since Roma’s inception in 1927.
  • Pallotta’s group have invested the most capital into A.S. Roma in the history of the club’s ownership: €400 million and counting since 2012. This is nearly over three times the amount previous owners invested into the club at the turn of the millenium.

James Pallotta’s era looks similar to the legacy left behind by former president Franco Evangelisti in the 1960s; meaning a president who went about restoring everything the club needed at community level, but achieved little tangible success with the showpiece team.

Meanwhile, a President like Franco Sensi can say “sorry about all the mistakes, but at least I left you with a Scudetto.” And to some fans, that means more.

No matter which way your beliefs and moral hazards lie, it is irrefutable that the men’s team—both now and at any time in Italian football history—brings the biggest share of commerce and prize money to club and community. And for that keep happening, you need to be able cover their expenses. You need to pay their wages without living off CL cheque-to-cheque and several major player sales every season. Does Pallotta still see a way forward?

Liverpool FC v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

When we take a cold look at what’s left of Pallotta’s motivation to make the Stadio della Roma a reality, it’s clear that a personal profit for Pallotta’s own investors is firmly within the Bostonian’s sights. But there’s also the mandate to leave the club better off than the shape in which the Sensis dumped it in his lap, back then.

The Sensis walked out the Trigoria gates with hundreds of millions of debt in their trail, and A.S. Roma watching the receivers taking over. Though Pallotta is nowhere near having to sweat the banks rolling up to Trigoria this time around, the fact remains that football has gotten too expensive for his group.

The swing in the 2017 summer transfer market was the kind of volatility few had planned for, and it’s the kind of financial rollercoaster than can only be contained by Roma owning her own stadium and cracking open a much-needed major source of revenue. Compared to Italy’s Big 3—AC Milan, Juventus and Inter Milan—Roma are fighting an uphill battle commercially.

Juventus FC President Andrea Agnelli looks on before the... Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images

Juventus raked in €186 million in commercial revenue alone last season—a huge 25% increase from their already impressive 2018 figures thanks to signing CR7 alone)—while Suning’s Inter Milan captured €155 million of commerce in 2019.

AC Milan, meanwhile, used to be the biggest team in the land. Recently their fortunes have fallen by over 30% in the last five years, with their commercial revenue down to below €56 million last season. But keep in mind that both Milan clubs have been getting this level of commerce without stadium-ownership, themselves. In comparison, Roma’s brand has never raked in more than €45 million per season, and that was only recently thanks to the CL semi-final 2017/18.

Before that, Roma were sitting on the likes of €30 million in commercial revenue a year, from the Sensi era all the way through to 2018. It’s not hard to see where Roma begin every season with one hand, if not both, tied behind their back. It will take years of sustained sporting success for the likes of Roma, or even Atalanta, to stand a chance at cracking into the Big 3’s brand-recognition regime.

Does Stadio della Roma immediately change those fortunes? No. But it’s at least solid ground.

A new stadium sponsor would be worth tens of millions per season alone to Roma, while the optics of the new reduced-capacity ground would go some way to restoring Serie A’s weekly image in front of the TV cameras.

After that, with a competent board at the helm on the commerce front, there’s no telling how Roma could grow their income exponentially.

The Home That Needs An Income

Coronavirus emergency - tourists in Rome Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

You may feel that A.S. Roma needs money fast, but that’s a truth that runs ten-fold for the city of Rome itself.

Courthouse News sums it up dramatically: “Potholes devouring vehicles, trash piling up on streets, aging public buses catching on fire, graft-prone politicians running government. Romans are not happy with the state of their city.”

This is city living where you pay tax to your local government, just to watch that money go into paying off debts from the past; Mistakes from generations gone by, and not a penny of it going into increasing your quality of life. But Virginia Raggi’s local government is hamstrung by a legacy of dodgy deals that go back well beyond her M5S party stepping into the Campidoglio office.

Over the course of the last half-century, Rome has gambled big and often gambled wrong. In fact, in our 2019 post, we even covered how several of those gambles were the waste left behind by A.S. Roma moving around the city themselves. So it’s not as clear cut as just trusting your local team to grow commercially, and believing that it’ll all go to plan if left in A.S. Roma’s hands.

UEFA Euro 2020 Mascot SKillzy Shooting In Rome Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

The Giallorossi have taken the wrong turn at these crossroads before, but Rome and Italy even more so. In the new millennium, we’ve finally seen global powers from the West admit that some international loans simply had no business being made with second and third-world countries in the first place, because the corrupt leaders signing those deals were in it for the fast money, with no real long-term plan for their people.

That’s led to debt-relief programs on several continents, but what could really be needed is a first-world country like Italy to swallow its pride and admit it needs some relief, too. Roma has been dragged into €12 billion worth of debt by the time 2020 came about, and that’s before the Covid-19 pandemic rocked the economy further.

The last decade has seen cities like Detroit declare bankruptcy for less.

But while Detroit bet wrong on the pride of their local industry, Rome’s is a murky case of politicians siphoning money out of the state for decades, on projects that were never intended to get off the ground.

How Rome is not at a complete standstill by now is something of a minor miracle, let alone standing face-to-face with a foreign investment project the size of A.S. Roma’s Tor di Valle stadium bid.

The average Italian citizen watches around €400 million of their collective tax money go into paying the capital’s debt ever year, while €200 million of that is taken from the wallets of Rome’s inhabitants. It’s safe to say some could do with hope emerging somewhere along the Eternal City skyline.

Rome’s local government justified the delays to the Stadio della Roma project by reminding the world “this is the largest private-public deal we’ve ever considered.” But even the Stadio della Roma’s one billion-worth of initial investment into the city has now been eclipsed by the €1.4 billion public deal struck in 2019 with the EU’s European Stability Mechanism to keep Rome afloat.

FBL-ITA-AS ROMA-STADIUM Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images

That loan from the European Union will have Rome repaying it back all the way into 2048 (coincidentally the same year that artificial intelligence is projected to take off globally), but it helps the city of Rome to breathe today, and gives Rome time to choose the next horse on which to ride into tomorrow.

Is the Stadio della Roma the city’s best gamble for raising the quality of living once again?

The stadium’s eco-tech that would have used the Tiber River for renewable energy may have been dropped from the project, along with a host of other changes since the Stadio bid was modified 2017, but the Business Park is still there with the potential to offer long-term jobs and a new mini-market of business among Rome’s commercial class.

And that’s not to forget the short-term immediate boost in jobs around the stadium’s construction itself. But most of all, the public funds involved in the deal would go towards revamping Rome’s local and regional public transport, which would make life a lot better for the man on the street.

The Mayor That Needs A Win

Rome Mayor Viginia Raggi Awards SS Lazio For The Tim Cup Win Photo by Marco Rosi/Getty Images

A club needing a place to call home, in a neighbourhood that can’t afford bet on the wrong club from here on in. Sure enough, in the middle of all these of conflicting desires, is Virginia Raggi’s local government taking the flak from it all.

Raggi may be a popular figure on CdT, but Totti knows she needs all the support she can get ahead of a bid for a second term in 2021. Since 2017, Rome has sunk a multiple-dozen places down Italy’s national list of Best Places to Live. All on Raggi’s watch.

She’s accused of breaking her promises to her own electorate for even considering green-lighting the stadium in the first place (she won her first mayoral election by standing completely against A.S. Roma’s plans to re-make the Tor Di Valle area), as her party runs accused of utter failure in their bid to change the Italian political system, and instead becoming just another cog within it.

And most of all, Raggi is sentenced to being a Lazio fan.

There’s always going to be a debate about whether Raggi and M5S were simply victims of circumstance, but the fact is Rome’s local government now desperately needs to look like they have a plan to turn around the city, headed into the 2021 local elections. A green-lit, shiny stadium site could bode well for them in the eyes of many, even if it comes at the expense of their loyalist voters.

Raggi recently claimed the stadium decision is a matter of “days” within her own party, and could be brought to an official vote in the halls of the Campidoglio assembly itself by the end of summer. So what makes this time different to all the well-intents in the years gone by?

Put simply, once Raggi’s goverment officially decides to bring the Stadio della Roma project to an city assembly vote, there is no turning back.

XXV International Marathon Of Rome - Press Conference Photo by Andrea Ronchini/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Maybe it helps (or doesn’t) to run through stadium bid’s vetting process, one that gave Virginia Raggi all assurances needed and then some, to be confident she was proposing a legitimate project to her own party.

From the moment the club first bid for a stadium back in 2014 (and then again in 2017 after the project got a makeover), the bid process has gone through:

  • A 90-day period where the project is presented and judged to be in the public interest or not.
  • A 120-day period where the project is judged to be in Municipal Rome’s interest or not.
  • A 180-day period where the project is judged to be in the Lazio Region’s interest or not.
  • A further 120-day extension where changes are made to the project, if Municipal Rome votes “No” to the bid.
  • A further 180-day extension where changes are made to the project, if the Lazio Region votes “No” to the bid.
  • A final vote from both Municipal Rome and the Lazio Region on the revised project.
  • A judgement on the public investments into the project itself (public transport links, public funds).
  • A 90-day extension period where changes are made to the project, if the public expenditure is not approved.
  • A final approval on the public spending involved in the bid.

Until the summer of 2019, all-but-one of the stages in this long bureaucratic affair had been satisfied.

And then finally, in 2019 itself came the third-party verdict from Torino, judging that the project’s integrity hadn’t been affected by arrests to Tor di Valle-land owner Luca Parnasi, his Euronova construction company and local government officials caught in the anti-corruption sting along the way.

The site on which Roma wanted to build their new stadium was not only clean, but presented no conflict of interest for the local government to invest their own public funds into it. That gave Raggi all the clearance needed to tell her M5S government that this was a project they could ride on.

Whether or not the government shares that confidence is something they’ll announce within days, maybe as early as this coming week.

Then that officially closes any further further questions on the bid itself, and it’s forceably taken to a final vote in the city hall.

And that’s it. You either vote yes or no, but no further changes can be made.

We wait the announcement from Rome’s mayor setting a date for that final vote any day now. And then we’ll have to wait till the end of summer for ‘The Decision’ from Rome’s city hall.