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Fiorentina and Florence might be heading for a messy divorce over new stadium

It sounds like matters may be reaching the boiling point as the local government continues to slow play a new home for the Viola.

ACF Fiorentina v US Lecce - Serie A
Wish we could keep it this happy between everyone and still get things done.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

It’s been another week to remember for fans of Fiorentina and Italian bureaucracy as team owner Rocco Commisso and the city of Florence continue to tango over the issue of a new stadium. Mayor Dario Nardella’s office has frustrated the Mediacom magnate at every turn, first with a denial of architect Marco Casamonti’s proposal to update the Stadio Artemio Franchi and surrounding area last fall, and then with its €22 million tender of the Mercafir site that Commisso rejected as far too expensive.

Rocco’s stated desire is a Viola-owned complex that would include a stadium along with offices and training facilities for the entire organization as well as commercial space available for lease. It’s a well-established fact that a team owning its own stadium adds a level of financial security that few clubs in Italy enjoy, and that taking the step could help Fiorentina immensely in the long run. In fact, when we spoke with him (hey, remember when WE TALKED TO ROCCO COMMISSO?), he even sent us these images from Deloitte’s Football Money League to illustrate the importance of stadium ownership.

Top graphic lists the 20 biggest revenues raised by clubs in 2019. Bottom graphic lists the 20 biggest from 2009. Notice how far behind Fiorentina has fallen, particularly in matchday revenue.
Deloitte Football Money League

When mentioning the situation, though, it’s worth noting that his first thought is a remodeling of the Franchi rather than a move to a new location, although there are numerous wrinkles to iron out first, including financing and ownership of the refurbished arena. Casamonti’s plans would move the curves in closer to the pitch and provide structural reinforcement and necessary updates (please, bathrooms, please) to the 89-year-old stadium.

Nardella has long held to the position that he wants to keep Fiorentina in Florence, which is good and correct. He’s drawn a lot of local ire of late, though, for stonewalling the club’s efforts to improve its digs at the only two sites in town that could possibly host a stadium without offering any concrete alternatives. He’s also discussed the importance of spending taxpayers’ money responsibly—a laudable measure for any public official—but many seem to think that his objections are a smokescreen as he tries to ensure that the city won’t lose the income from its most famous sporting tenant. It’s a delicate balancing act for the mayor, to be sure.

Most notably, Campi Bisenzio mayor Emiliano Fossi has offered 38 hectares for €5-7 million, claiming that a new stadium could be finished in two years. Nardella has replied with talk of vague amendments to local laws that could see the city offer tax breaks for development in 30,000 square meters in the Campo di Marte area (which contains the Franchi and various other sporting facilities), cracking the door on a resumption of discussion on an overhaul of the current stadium.

Rocco may well be done with such discussions, though, as he sticks to his mantra of “fast, fast, fast.” Perhaps lulled to sleep by the Della Valles’ halfhearted attempts to develop Mercafir, the Florence government isn’t prepared for a more American approach.

The matter has risen above the local level, too, as Florentine senator Rosa Maria di Giorgi reported that Italian minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities Dario Franceschini was in favor of Casamonti’s planned renovations, which Franceschini himself quickly denied. In short, it’s become the sort of procedural farce that too often characterizes politics. All we can do is sit back and wait to see what comes next.