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ViolaNation Exclusive - An interview with Rocco Commisso

An interview with Rocco Commisso Part 2 – In depth on the stadium and Centro Sportivo

ACF Fiorentina v SSC Napoli - Serie A
Rocco at the Artemio Franchi
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Recently, Rocco Commisso and his Mediacom team hosted ViolaNation at their headquarters in Mediacom Park, NY. Our conversation will provide the basis for a series of articles posted over the next few weeks.

We posted the first part of our interview with Fiorentina owner, Rocco Commisso last week, providing some insight into Rocco’s life growing up and his first couple weeks as Fiorentina owner. In Part 2, we go in depth with Rocco about his plans for the stadium and Centro Sportivo, investments paramount to the financial sustainability of an ambitious club and owner.

We have heard your focus is on the business side of Fiorentina, a big focus has been the stadium. Where do we stand?

When I bought the club from the Della Valle family, I thought I could come right in, invest the money and go right to work on a stadium project. Unfortunately, there is a lot of work that needs to get done on the political front and the approval end before we can get started. It was very surprising to me given that they have been talking about how to improve the stadium situation in Florence for the past 10 to 20 years.

I said it from the first day. There is a lot we can bring from America and it isn’t just the money. It’s a way of doing business quickly and efficiently that we want to export to Italy.

Sitting in this amazing building, you clearly have experience building a beautiful structure in a stunning setting. [Mediacom’s headquarters was finished in 2013 and sits at the edge of the gorgeous Catskill Mountains]

Tom Larsen, SVP of Government and Public Relations at Mediacom: Rocco was able to obtain approvals on this building in under four months. He built an award-winning facility here in less than two years from start to finish. It wasn’t the speed of approval that was key, it was the man behind the project. He is true to his word and only builds first-class.

If you had the ability to do it your way, what would you build?

As things stand, rebuilding the Franchi is too challenging. Thus far, we’ve been told we must maintain the curves as part of any renovation. This is a deal breaker for me because it does little to enhance the fan experience, limits the commercial space and restricts our ability to put in a museum or hall of fame.

The best outcome would be if they give me the opportunity to build at a new location in a timely fashion.

What goes in to your planning for the new stadium?

I have two main priorities for building a stadium. One, the fans and two, the revenues.

First and foremost, I want our fans to be covered from the elements as they watch the game. I don’t want them to be rained on in January and February or bake in the sun in May and August. Their comfort is very important to me.

Second, we need the new stadium to be a revenue driver. Juventus is right now at €500 million in annual revenues and we are at €100 million. Their new stadium has been a critical element of their on-field success. Florence is a major tourist destination and we believe a new stadium could become a must-see attraction for the 15 million visitors passing through each year.

When you consider how much the top players in Europe get paid, it will be difficult to build a winning team that competes for trophies if we don’t dramatically grow our revenues. With Financial Fair Play, we cannot have more than €30 million in losses over three years. It is to everyone’s benefit to make sure that money comes into the club, so we can invest that money in talented players. Building a new stadium would help us increase the revenues. This additional revenue isn’t going into my pocket. I did not buy Fiorentina to make money, but to make the club a winner.

We have heard talks about inside the city limits versus outside. Is it possible a stadium is built outside of Firenze?

Compare our situation in Florence to Manhattan. There are no stadia in Manhattan, a borough that is 5X the population of the City of Florence. The stadia for baseball and football are in the Bronx, Queens and New Jersey because it is impossible to find suitable land in Manhattan. If there is no land within Firenze to build a stadium, then I think it makes sense to also consider the Florence metropolitan area.

What are the plans for the Centro Sportivo? When should we expect to hear something?

Today our teams and practice facilities are dispersed all over the Florence metropolitan area. We don’t own any of the properties where we play or practice. I’ve gone to see the first team play in Florence, the women play in a different town, the primavera play in another town. I couldn’t even make it to see the youth teams because they all play in different areas. We need a coordinated center for all of Fiorentina’s teams. We think we will be able to do this faster than the stadium. It is just a question of acquiring the properties and then we will move forward with the project.

If I’m able to do this, it will be the most state-of-the-art Centro Sportivo in all of Italy. We are talking about lots of acreage where we could have at least ten fields. We will have lights, a covered stadium where the women and Primavera can play. There would be a central office, a gym, athletic facilities and sleeping and learning quarters for all the kids.