Foreign investments

How the multi-club ownership ban could impact foreign investment and change the future of Italian football

For a long time, the transnational phenomenon of multi-club ownership in football seemed to have spared Italy from the eyes of foreign (and domestic) investors.

However, since 2018 there have been several takeovers in Italian football, with half of the 20 Serie A clubs in Italy’s top-tier football league now owned by foreign investors, mostly North Americans.

Nevertheless, the trend has also affected domestic businessmen. The most notable case was Claudio Lotito’s ownership of Serie A giants SS Lazio and second-tier Serie B Salernitana.

When the latter was promoted to the top flight in August, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) forced President Lotito to hastily sell his share of Salernitana, to ensure the integrity and fairness of the league. .

MORE FORBESWhat’s next for Serie A after FIGC reject blind trust to sell Salernitana

Last September – with an unprecedented decision – the FIGC banned timeshare in Italian professional football, in order to avoid similar cases in the future.

I met with sports lawyer Cesare Di Cintio to analyze the ownership landscape of several clubs in Italy, the short-term consequences of the investment ban, the possible repercussions on academies and the long-term legislative implications on the future of Italian. football.

Is the ban positive or negative for Italian football?

Positive and forward-looking. The rule aims to preserve competitive fairness and avoid wrongdoing, which could exploit sports competitions.

On President Claudio Lotito’s blind faith to sell Salernitana: How could the FIGC allow Lotito to keep Salernitana up to 30 days before the start of Serie A?

I think we have to point out that the current FIGC governance has inherited some outdated rules regarding multiple club ownership. This is what happened in the case of Salernitana. It wasn’t until the club was promoted to Serie A that the FIGC had to find a way to deal with the situation, in accordance with the rules in force. I think the blind trust solution allowed the league to continue fairly and made it easier to sell the club.

Italy’s Serie C third division president Francesco Ghirelli has accused the ownership of several clubs of “blocking the development of reserve teams and young players”. Do you agree with him?

The “reserve teams” project wanted to allow juniors to gain experience at a more competitive level before starting in the first team, but in Italy the only successful example was that led by Juventus with the U23s.

I think the problem was more economic: the big clubs lack the financial, technical and managerial resources to set up a second team in another league, mainly because of the financial difficulties encountered during the pandemic.

Are there other cases of timeshare in Italian professional football?

The example of Lotito in Lazio and Salernitana was not the only one. The new FIGC ban prevents owners from being able to hold not only a majority but also a minority stake in several professional clubs in the top three tiers of Italian football.

The goal was to encourage the other two existing cases to quickly comply with the new rule. The first is the De Laurentiis family – which involves Serie A giants SSC Napoli and Serie C giants SSC Bari – and the second is Maurizio Setti, owners of Serie A Hellas Verona and Serie C Mantova. They both have until the start of the 2024/2025 season to decide which club they want to keep.

The businessmen involved are not very happy. Last December, SSC Bari president Luigi De Laurentiis filed an appeal against the new rule, saying it is unfair to impose a strict deadline on those who have invested large sums in Italian football. What is your opinion on the call? Does he have a chance in court?

This is an unprecedented situation. And it is very difficult to anticipate the outcome, given that we are still not in a position to verify in detail the content of the appeal. Quite frankly, it is also impossible to talk about the possible consequences on all football legislation.

Given the importance of the issue and the fact that we are dealing with a legislative novelty, I think we should expect a long trial.

Nowadays, many investment groups own several clubs in different countries. Do you think the new ban could be detrimental to foreign entrepreneurs and discourage potential investment in Italian football?

Barely. It was only recently that Serie A club CFC Genoa was taken over by US investment fund 777 Partners. Last August, American businessman Joe Tacopina took over SPAL in Serie B, and the same fate was shared by Serie C Como, bought by the Hartono brothers. Many of Serie A’s 20 clubs are now majority foreign-owned, meaning Italian football is a business opportunity for foreign entrepreneurs.

And for good reason: football clubs are subject to strong growth prospects, given the sport’s unparalleled visibility in the country, and with lucrative broadcast rights representing an ever-growing asset worth the investment.