Rocco Commisso will actively look to expand the ACF Fiorentina brand in the United States after purchasing the Serie A club early this month.
The Italian-American billionaire, who is the chairman of cable provider Mediacom, bought Fiorentina from brothers Andrea and Diego Della Valle in a deal worth a reported $190m.
The 69-year-old also owns the New York Cosmos, which play in the semi-pro National Premier Soccer League, and is personally worth an estimated $4.8bn, according to Forbes.
Commisso’s plans to help Fiorentina break the US market were given a significant boost when the club was invited to participate in this summer’s International Champions Cup by organizers Relevent Sports Group after AS Roma pulled out due to Europa League commitments.
Fiorentina will play three matches in the United States: against Chivas de Guadalajara on July 16 at SeatGeekStadium in Chicago; against Arsenal at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte on Saturday, July 20; and on July 24 against Benfica at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.
A practice game between Fiorentina and the Cosmos is being considered as well.
“It can’t be done overnight, we’re not AC Milan or Juventus, but it is part of our strategy to develop the brand and increase the revenues in order to buy better players,” Commisso tells SportBusiness. “The revenue streams in Serie A are about a third of the Premier League and I see a lot of opportunity.”
Commisso is the latest North American investor in Italian soccer. AC Milan is owned by the Elliott Management hedge fund, AS Roma is led by Boston billionaire and Boston Celtics minority owner James Pallotta, while Bologna’s ownership group is backed by Montreal’s Saputo family. Serie B club Venezia, meanwhile, is run by New York lawyer Joe Tacopina.
On the possible challenges of being a foreign owner of a European club, Commisso says: “The guy at Liverpool just won a Champions League, doesn’t he own a baseball team in Boston [the Red Sox]? You think John Henry goes to Liverpool every game? Look, I plan to be there a lot: not every day, not every week, but a lot. But I need to learn: I’m not going to over-promise on anything.”
Commisso will also focus on refurbishing the 43,000-seat Artemio Franchi Stadium, which was built in 1931, to help put the club on a par with leading clubs in Europe. “I have objectives to invest and win something in addition to investing in the infrastructure, including the existing stadium,” he adds. “What’s lacking in Italy is the infrastructure. We need to improve it.”
Commisso, who says he had prior opportunities to buy soccer teams in England, Belgium, Switzerland, France, and in the US with Major League Soccer, first explored buying Fiorentina in 2016. “My focus from day one was always Italy as that’s where I was born and that’s who I love,” he says.
His initial offers to the Della Valle brothers did not get very far in the process. “I think they were just testing the market,” he says. But, having failed in an attempt to purchase AC Milan in the summer of 2018, he made another attempt to secure Fiorentina later that year.
He says: “I finally secured a face-to-face meeting with Fiorentina management but they were asking for too much money and I told them to go home. They then changed coaches and the fortunes of the team went downhill [Fiorentina escaped relegation on the final day of the 2018-19 season] and I got a significantly lower price than what they were [initially] asking for, which was fair for both of us.”
The purchase price for Fiorentina, he says, was “three or four times” less than what he offered for AC Milan, which was a reported $500m.
Commisso remains in an ongoing battle with the US Soccer Federation after the National American Soccer League, in which the Cosmos played, was stripped of its division two sanctioning in late 2017. The Cosmos has since played in the NPSL.
Following the demise of the NASL, Commisso has funded a federal antitrust lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation, accusing the governing body of anti-competitive practices designed to favour MLS.
Commisso says his purchase of Fiorentina will not derail his efforts on this issue. “I promised that I would continue this fight and I have, with lots of money behind it with no clear idea where it will end up. I will fight and fight hard,” he says.