Despite years of planning, Roma’s new stadium was nearly thwarted by bureaucracy that has plagued the Italian top flight for decades.
In 2011, James Pallotta had a plan. When he and his ownership group purchased Roma, he hoped to awaken a sleeping giant, and return one of Italy’s most beloved clubs back into the global spotlight. Coming from a sports management background, being part owner of the Boston Celtics and winning a championship in 2008, Pallotta seeked the same for I Giallorossi. The first step in creating a world class team is to have world class facilities. With all due respect to the Stadio Olimpico being an historic venue, it just simply is not an ideal pitch to watch a match. Stadiums with running tracks, a huge problem in many stadiums in Italy results in poor visibility for fans and a cavernous, dull atmosphere. This is one of the reasons why Italian stadiums are empty. Why pay big bucks to sit in half empty, crumbling stadium with a crystal clear HD television sitting in your living room?
Since the World Cup in 1990, Italian clubs have failed to modernize their stadiums. Not only are they crumbling but they have become incredibly outdated. England and Germany have the best stadiums in the world. They are built close to the pitch, right on top of the players is the ideal stadium for football. It’s no wonder the stadiums are nearly full every match. In Italy, the majority of stadiums are owned by the municipalities and built running tracks in order to host multiple events, as if the world athletic championships would ever be held in Napoli or Bari. Ticket and concession revenue, therefore, goes to the city, not the club, who could be using that money to invest in new players. This puts Italian clubs at a huge disadvantage in the transfer market. Juventus opened their stadium in time for the 2011-12 season on top of the old Delle Alpi. The revenue generated from matches, concerts, and nearby shops has put Juventus at an enormous advantage over their rivals in terms of revenue streams. Juventus can now compete with the other big clubs in Europe for the world’s top players, one of the major reasons they have dominated Serie A this decade.
Pallotta and the Roma ownership group have dared to be ambitious. The “Stadio della Roma” project began in 2014. The proposed site would include shops, theatres and other attractions in addition to a beautiful new 52,500 seat football stadium. The new stadium would have state of the art features, luxury boxes, and designed like the Colosseum in addition to being completely eco-friendly. The planned site, built on an existing train line, would allow for several large parking lots to be built in addition to a brand new subway station. The economic impact in the city from the Stadio Della Roma could reach billions of Euros over a 5 year period according to Roma’s ownership group. A move like this would put the club on the global football map as a top destination for fans.
Alas, this is Italian football after all. In this league, every decision is meticulously scrutinized. What seemed to be an excellent forward thinking plan nearly turned into a disaster from the same old story Italians have heard before. Bureaucracy is something faced all over the world, but nowhere near as common as in Italy. Projects being delayed for years, or never being built are very common in Italy. Red tape and needless paperwork are about as Italian as pizza alla margherita. Initially, a delay in obtaining building permits pushed back the planned opening of the stadium from 2017 to 2019. Earlier in February, the Region of Lazio and Mayor of Rome Virgina Raggi – a puppet of Italy’s right wing political party 5 Stelle – rejected the proposal of the stadium despite permission from the previous administration. The reason being: the Tor Di Valle site where the stadium is to be built was made an “historic site”, all based on a decrepit race tack that had not been used in decades. As ludicrous as that sounded, a crunch meeting this past week with city council saved the project. Amendments will be made including cancelling the construction of three towers and 60% of the business park. but the project will move forward.
This bizarre and comical situation is one Serie A will need to avoid in the future if it plans to close the gap between other top flight leagues in Europe. Stadiums are an essential part of football culture and major revenue stream. At the time of writing, there are currently 3 teams that own their own stadium: Juventus, Sassuolo & Udinese. This is far too little and although progress has been made, albeit slowly, it simply is not enough. There is too much money at stake for red tape to get in the way of progress yet again. Brutte figure (bad impressions) in the football world must end now.
Despite the bleakness there is hope. Juventus was able to rebuild their stadium fairly quickly by Italian standards, only three years. There are plans for Fiorentina and Sampdoria to follow suit and build their own stadiums in the early 2020s. Cagliari, a small provincial club, will play in their brand new stadium in 2020 with construction all under way. As long as politics stay out of the picture, the next decade could be a boon for Serie A, a league that is deserving of the best facilities in the world.