In what has become a yearly tradition like Spring Training, James Pallotta was a part of last weekend’s Sloan Sports Analytics conference, and as he has done in previous years, he opened up his mouth and talked. A lot. So I’ll shut up because this is gonna be a long one. (But one final thing! Apologies for the choppy translation. Of course the guy speaks English but the only full transcripts online are in Italian)
About 10 years ago, when I stopped trading on the stock exchange, I was 50 and, before buying Rome 5 years ago, I started spending a lot of time in the world of artificial intelligence and “machine learning”. At that time there was not an industry in the field, I’m not even sure there’s one now ... but if you wanted to learn something about it, you had to go to college, like MIT, one of the best in the field of machine learning. I also went to Oxford, Cambridge and Toronto. You had to interface with the universities, there were no companies to talk to. Alex Zecca has been working with me for about 25 years, and in the last 5 years we have worked hard on the analysis of statistical data in Rome. Based on what we did at the Celtics when we bought them 15 years ago, many things were basic.
One of the most complicated things is to bring the coaches to listen to what we are doing. About 9 months ago, we decided that we would try to take the next step. Let’s try to identify the players ... maybe the next Messi, if it ever exists. The next Ronaldo, or Totti, or someone like that. It’s a really hard thing to do. You can watch 6000 players, but if you want to look for certain characteristics, you have to watch hours and hours of videos of every player. We wanted to get to a point in which to say: if these are the characteristics that we look for in a player, and I do not mean the number of contrasts or something similar, but other game features like acceleration, here are the players. The only way we could do it was through machine learning. We were lucky: we met several people, including 2 women, and so the machine learning group was created.
If Monchi says ‘I would like to see this, this and that other’, we can start building a system that identifies those players, filtering those 6000 initial players. This is what we are trying to do: a system that filters. You might think it’s easy, but it’s not. We need to understand how much computer power you need for all the videos. The data is out there, as are the videos, but this involves the use of so much power. We think we have found someone who can solve the problem, but this is the direction we would like to take.
Roma Academies in the US
In the United States we have 12 Academies of Rome, Zecca and other people have created them in the last years. There are 20,000 boys in these academies, and we’re adding more. What we see is that, between 12 and 15 years, the talent of American boys is equal to that of Italian boys. Rome has one of the best academies in Italy, and the gap between the US and Europe is created when it comes to the age of the Primavera team. Here in the States you do not play as much as you do in Europe at that age. We have this player, Under, who is 20 years old and has scored 5 goals in the last 4 games. Here in America it is not possible, there is a gap in which American boys aged 18-19-20 do not play so much.
He is definitely on to something about the status of academies/youth soccer in the USA. And as someone who lives around the corner from the Juve academy (and is friends with one of the trainers, the guy played for the Roma Primavera with Florenzi), I can attest that Pallotta isn’t too far off with his statement of the 12-15 year olds here being just as good as the Italians.
Speaking about Roma’s Fans, Media Presence, TV, Radio, etc
We have been in Rome for 5 years, for the first 2 we had to solve problems with the banks. It was a difficult situation, but we saw in Rome the possibility of building an international sports brand because, in fact, it is Rome. Me and the other owners have a lot of experience in the world of sport. I have 35 years of experience in media and entertainment, as well as 35 as an investor in the technological world. Three and a half years ago we built Roma TV Studio, we have a set of studios to produce content like any other team in Europe. At the same time, Roma TV was born, which now produces 7 hours of original content a day, and we are starting to distribute it to the rest of the world.
We have also built our own internal data system. We had no information about our fans. If many teams ask who their fans are, they answer you that they have 600 million. When I ask him to name them, they answer me and ask me what I’m talking about. An email address, a telephone number. They tell me they do not have them and so I answer: ‘Well, we have a billion fans. You invent a number, we invent another one. “ It is something that makes no sense. There is still a long way to go to understand who their fans are.
So we did it with the TV, and as I said we bought our own radio to give our version of the news, because we had to deal with 9 radio stations in Rome, and if I listened to them every day, I would jump from the Tobin Bridge (a bridge in Boston) because they shit all day on what we do or what I do.
About three years ago Paul Rogers arrived from Liverpool and with him I started working on the type of website that we wanted to build, on our social presence. We did not want to have a site that you’re going to go on and get stuff like ‘50% off merchandising’ written right away. We have developed our site where many of our fans, who are very creative, send their contents. Then our app came. Last year our site was voted best internet sports website, so good Paul Rogers. Then our app came. Last year our site was voted best internet sports website, so good Paul Rogers. Then our app came. Last year our site was voted best internet sports website, so good job Paul Rogers!
More on the Fake News Radio Station:
In Rome there were 9 radio stations that spoke of Rome 24 hours a day. This was what happened 3 or 4 years ago. Today we are the only team in Europe that has its own radio station, which we started about two and a half years ago. I believe that in the meantime we have sent 2 bankrupt, now there are 7 others. We need to explain our version of the facts.
Wow. Ok, moving on...
In three years we hope to have our own stadium, and this is the key, because we can not compete with Barcelona in any way if they make a billion dollars in revenues in the next 2-3 years, while we are dealing with 220-240 millions of euros. Part of this comes from the winning history, but not only. We are building a stadium on 80 hectares in Rome, we have the approval. It will have a capacity of 54 thousand people: not as big as that of Barcelona, but around the stadium there will be more than 23 thousand square meters dedicated to entertainment.
Our stadium will be the most used stadium in southern Europe. There will also be college football games, Michigan has already asked us. Charlie Stillitano and I have already talked about the challenge between Boston College and Notre Dame, the ‘holy war’ (the name of the challenge between the two university teams), with the Pope to throw the coin before the match (the audience laughs). Then there will be concerts. We had a delay in the final approval of the stadium that came only 2 months ago, but soon we can start producing double or triple revenue compared to now. I do not have much patience, we are putting so much effort in, but we will get there.
Maybe we should try to compete with Juve and Napoli first? And focus on getting this team a damn shirt sponsor instead of worrying about with NCAA teams are going to play college hand egg in our stadium.
Finally, about attracting fans around the world
We know we can not transform a Barcelona fan into one of Roma, but our goal from the first day is to be the second team of all in the world. If there are 3 billion football fans in the world, and I can get even 1%, it’s still about 30 million people. And if these 30 million people spend on average only 5 euros, which is not even the price of a hat, it is still 150 million euros, and there are many. You do not have to use that to go buy Neymar or Messi, but it could allow us to buy a back-up right back (indicates Sobrino del Barcellona).
Well, the final quote just about sums James Pallotta up for you. You, the (most likely) non-Rome based Romanista are literally only a dollar sign to this man. Sure, he creepily will be able to tell the owners of AC Milan your email and telephone number and act like he “knows his fans”, but as you can see above, that’s just because he will having your billing information on file to milk an average of 5 euros from you per year. And guess what? Don’t expect it to go to any new shiny toys. Oh no. That 150 million is going towards a back-up right back!
All you need to see is the last page, screenshotted below. Yes, that is a loss of 40+ million Euro. Someone has some ‘splainin to do....