Ever since we heard that Rocco Commisso was thinking about buying Fiorentina, we’ve been dreaming about the communications billionaire sinking his fortune into the club and bringing in a raft of top talent. Now that he’s taken over from the Della Valle brothers, though, there are more questions than answers. One of the biggest is, “How does Financial Fair Play impact a new owner?”
According to the FFP pdf (download), the pertinent information here is found in 2.12 of the charter: the mythical three-year rule. The document states, “The membership and the contractual relationship (if any) [between UEFA and a club] must have lasted – at the start of the licence season – for at least three consecutive years”.
That means that Commisso is immune from FFP penalties until June 2022. After that, the club will have to balance the books, either through player sales, media income, or sponsorship deals. That’s what kept the DVs from investing a lot over the past few years; running without a sponsor and without European competition squeezes a club’s income, thus limiting its expenditures as well.
That’s probably been the greatest criticism of FFP: that it privileges those clubs that spend a lot by letting them spend more. Given the strong correlation between shelling out money and winning—teams that can and do spend tend to end up higher in the table than teams that can or don’t spend—Financial Fair Play encases clubs in a rigid hierarchy with only two ways out: either consistently hit on a series of young players they can sell for huge money and slowly ascend the ranks, or hope that a new owner with deep pockets appears on the scene and invests heavily. Enter Rocco.
Therefore, Commisso can spend as much as he wants. In fact, given the strictures of FFP, the best way for a club to claw its way upwards is for a new owner to spend like crazy in the first years of their administration and hope that the team can play its way deep into the Champions or Europa Leagues, earning extra money that can subsequently be reinvested within FFP requirements. Signing big sponsorship deals also helps a lot.
There is a danger to having a new owner spend big, though, and that’s salaries. Good players require higher wages than bad players. Good players also frequently require higher wages to go to smaller or less visible clubs than they’d take at big clubs; have a look at how much good but not incredible players make in China, say, for proof.
To kick off a new project, some owners will splash the cash on a star players, enjoy the next three years, and then panic when the check comes due three years later. If a team’s wage bills don’t fit within FFP regulations, chaos ensues and usually ends with a firesale, as famously happened to Málaga half a decade ago. While there are exceptions to this—AC Milan, take a bow—sinking too much into a club and then being unable to continue operations without acquiring a pile of debt, which FFP forbids.
It seems, then, that Commisso’s best course of action will be to raise Fiorentina’s profile as much as possible to attract sponsorship deals and better players. He’ll have to spend a lot on reinforcements on the pitch, but avoid taking on debt. In short, he has to come up with a sustainable business model, preferably one that doesn’t require qualifying for Europe every year (again, hi there, Milan). Given his business background, he seems more than capable of putting such a plan together. Here’s hoping that he does just that and returns Fiorentina its rightful place among Italy’s finest.