SUBSCRIBE

SOCCER

Jim Pallotta has big plans for AS Roma

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Jim Pallotta joins his AS Roma team during practice this week at Harvard’s Ohiri Field.

By Globe Staff 

As a soccer man, Jim Pallotta has become familiar with a small number. 

Over his six-year ownership of Italian soccer team AS Roma, Pallotta has learned a lone breakdown can produce the amount of goals usually scored in a Serie A game. 

Advertisement

“In football, a lot of times, it’s one play,” Pallotta said. “Just one play, one mess-up, makes it 1-0 and the game is over. That grabs you so much more. For me, it does.”

As a businessman, Pallotta is more familiar with bigger numbers. The 59-year-old is the founder of Raptor Group, an investment company headquartered on Congress Street. He is a former vice chairman at Tudor Investment Corporation. He is a part owner of the Boston Celtics.

As such, Pallotta is well-positioned to determine that neither his 90-year-old franchise nor European soccer is close to financial maturity. Pallotta, who purchased Roma in 2011 and became its principal owner the following year, envisions joining the ride on a sport that continues to accelerate. Pallotta, once a casual soccer fan, is proof that the sport’s beauty, drama, and competitiveness can produce consumer frenzy.

“If you now have 15 million followers on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, your sponsorship dollars should be higher,” said Pallotta, explaining the impact of social media. “So instead of getting $5 million, you’re now getting $10 million from a particular sponsor. It’s all about viewership from social and regular TV. Then you have Champions League stuff, which could change, too, if there’s ever a Super League. Then it’s going to dramatically bring revenues up again. Then when you’re watching those games, now you have to remember it’s the middle of the night in Asia, India, and other places. They’re going to have to figure out how to change that. Once you get more eyeballs on that again, the advertising numbers go up. Sponsorship numbers go up. Viewership numbers go up.”

 Since July 20, Pallotta has served as owner and host. Roma has used Boston as base camp for the International Champions Cup, staying in Cambridge and practicing at Harvard’s Ohiri Field. 

Advertisement

On July 19, Roma tied Paris Saint-Germain in Detroit, 1-1. On Tuesday, after blowing a 2-0 lead, Roma beat Tottenham Hotspur with a late goal in Harrison, N.J., 3-2. Roma will conclude the tournament on Sunday at Gillette Stadium against Juventus, its Serie A rival. 

 In Foxborough, Roma’s faithful will watch their favorite team. Through his ownership lens, Pallotta will oversee something he projects to be more than a soccer club. Pallotta believes Roma can become a global sports and media conglomerate. For healthy and competitive European soccer clubs, Pallotta does not believe ceilings exist.

 

From fifth to first

For Pallotta, raised in the North End, his first sport was basketball. He did not require a ticket for entry to Boston Garden.

 “We’d sneak in on the roof,” Pallotta recalled. “A few kids would pitch in, one kid would get a ticket, and go in. We’d climb the fire escape, they’d open the fire door, and 10 of us would run in and just go crazy. The security guards didn’t even care about it in some ways. I don’t think they could have seen us. We’re up on the top level, and all the cigarette smoke from people smoking clouded up the top level anyways.”

 Pallotta once considered soccer No. 5 on his list of preferred sports. Now, Pallotta monitors Roma’s progress via TVs in multiple rooms as he paces through his home. Pallotta is too nervous to sit.

 “Didn’t really like it all,” Pallotta said of his initial post-acquisition interest. “It didn’t take more than six months before I would be in Los Angeles, it’s 3 in the morning, and I’m watching friendlies between the US and Canadian women. And texting people back east, who are fanatical, and going, ‘I don’t know what’s happening to me, but I’m losing my mind because I’m watching a women’s friendly at 3 in the morning.’ ”

 All of soccer’s elements now appeal to Pallotta: strategy, creativity, teamwork, athleticism, competitiveness, and belligerence. He just didn’t know what he was missing.

 So in that way, Pallotta resembles the American sports fan who is disengaged with soccer. Once Pallotta’s gaze settled on European soccer, he could not look away. Other eyes are waiting to be opened.

 “There’s a huge fanbase here, which is growing, which is more, ‘I want to watch the best guys in the world play.’ And that’s the European football piece of it,” Pallotta said of the American audience. “That’s where the much, much bigger opportunity is for European football clubs, top-10 clubs, to get from the US.”

 Pallotta praises MLS for its improving standard of competition. Pallotta has even greater respect for MLS’s marketing.

 But Pallotta and anyone who follows behemoths such as Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, and Real Madrid acknowledge the field is so uneven that one goal is falling into the other. Superior salary, competition, and culture draw the world’s best players, including Americans, to the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, and Serie A. Within each league, additional distillation takes place to create powerhouses. 

 “You’re seeing crazy good football. Factually, it’s just better players,” Pallotta said of the typical Chelsea-Arsenal game. “I’m not denigrating MLS. I think they’ve done a really good job of marketing and getting their product out. In fact, a great job. I think European football leagues could learn from MLS and what they did in marketing the product. European teams have lived off the tribal, culture, and fanaticism a different way. Other than the Premier League, the leagues themselves have not done anywhere as good a job in branding and marketing themselves as MLS has.”

Jim davis/Globe Staff

Jim Pallotta, the owner of AS Roma soccer team and part-owner of the Celtics, usually has his hands full.

 According to the New York Times, Pallotta and his investors paid approximately $89 million for their 2011 Roma stake. Via the summer transfer market, Roma has added Aleksandar Kolarov, Cengiz Under, Gregoire Defrel, and Lorenzo Pellegrini to its 2017-18 roster.

 But Roma’s bank account does not compare to those of the sport’s 1 percent. Neymar, Barcelona’s Brazilian superstar, is considering a move to Paris Saint-Germain. The transfer fee would exceed $250 million. The fee does not include Neymar’s salary, an annual ask of $40 million.

“The haves are just becoming more and more powerful,” Pallotta said. “When you see some of the transfer markets they’re talking about now, say Neymar and $200 million, I don’t think I would do that, even if I had the money. But it’s just not something that’s feasible except for maybe three, four teams.”

Pallotta is working on additional revenue streams. Roma does not have a sponsor for its Nike uniform, which is unusual considering the practice’s ubiquity (Fly Emirates with Real Madrid, General Motors with Manchester United, Deutsche Telekom with Bayern Munich). After several years of delays, setbacks, and political wrangling, Pallotta is awaiting approval to build a stadium and entertainment complex in Rome. 

The team shares Olimpico Stadio, which opened in 1937, with SS Lazio. Pallotta estimates revenues will more than double once they’re in Stadio della Roma, the name of their planned 52,500-seat home. 

 Rome, however, does not approve multimillion-dollar infrastructure undertakings promptly.

 Rome, however, does not approve multimillion-dollar infrastructure undertakings promptly. If the stadium is not approved shortly, Pallotta told the Associated Press he would consider a sale.

“We don’t want to sell it. We think there’s a huge opportunity for us to build a championship-caliber team with a stadium and an entertainment complex,” Pallotta added in a telephone interview from Boston, where the team was training. “But if they can’t get the approval stuff in order then someone else is going to have to go through with it.”

 Strength in a triangle

 Roma and Juventus will play on Sunday. To Pallotta, it will be more than a game. It will be an opportunity for Roma to present itself as a multimedia entertainment company. 

 Fans can watch the game on Roma TV. They can listen to it on Roma Radio. They can follow along through Roma’s web site, social media channels, and mobile app. Well after the final whistle, the game will provide content for Roma’s enthusiasts to consume.

 “The 24-7 around it is how you build out your global brand,” Pallotta said. “That was the rationale in the first place for Rome more than any other city. It’s Rome.”

 Pallotta and his investors refer to a triangle to guide Roma’s principles. The vertices are sports, media and entertainment, and technology and distribution. The trick is to build robustness in all three. 

As a part owner of the Celtics, Pallotta knows passion. He’s seen Italians wearing Celtics jerseys. The fervor for Roma, however, reaches another level.

 “I can’t walk in Rome more than two minutes without being stopped,” Pallotta said. “So if I’m walking, it’s photographers, journalists, or Roma fans wanting to talk, sign something, take a picture. That’s in London, Milan, Miami — they’re there. They just come up to you. It’s constant in a bunch of these places. In Rome, it’s just crazy. The fanbase in European football, it’s usually the only major sport in the city. It goes back much further than teams here. It really is tribal and cultural, way more than it is in US sports. So the fanaticism is on steroids.”

Craziness is not only good for business, but critical in today’s soccer market. Income inequality is not limited to socioeconomics. The elite teams are growing by winning in their respective countries, UEFA Champions League, and UEFA Europa League. 

The rich acquire the best players, attract more viewers, and gain more sponsors. The cycle continues. Roma wants in.


Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com
Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.