MIAMI, May 29 (Reuters) - Becoming a ‘global brand’ is a frequent mantra for soccer executives across Europe but AS Roma president James Pallotta believes he has a plan to turn the ambition into reality for his club.
Pallotta, a member of the NBA’s Boston Celtics board, has been hard at work in the 18 months since he took control of the club, developing a new stadium plan and introducing business methods that are standard in the U.S. but rarely adopted in Italian soccer.
The next step for Pallotta is to take Roma, who have qualified for next year’s Champions League, into the elite of truly international sports brands and make the most of the growing interest in the sport in North America and Asia.
“It is not just about applying ‘American business methods’ but good business methods,” Pallotta told Reuters in an interview during the team’s end-of-season visit to Orlando.
“We analyzed a lot of teams in Europe and you would be surprised that a lot of those teams who you might imagine were just doing everything right had a bunch of different missing pieces,” the American added.
”They know who their season ticket holders are and some others but when they say they have got 600 million fans and we say name them - they say ‘what do you mean?’
“There is a huge opportunity for us and not only for us, by applying methods that are normal to other businesses - knowing who your customers are and who your fans are.”
Roma last won the Serie A title in 2001 but failed to build on that success and establish themselves among the Champions League elite.
“First and foremost we have to have a great team on the pitch. I think we are a little ahead of where we expected to be,” said the Bostonian.
”Our goal is to be global. To be significant in Asia, to be significant in South America and in the U.S. and around the world.
”We know we have a ridiculous amount of fans in Asia and in the Middle East and we just have to start activating them.
”We do that in two ways - one is by having a good team and then secondly you have to talk to them, find them and that is what we are doing a lot of.
“We have hired people on content, on television and technology we have to hire a senior person on social media, but we have a lot of ideas on how to activate that fan base.”
While hard market research will, Pallotta believes, uncover those global supporters he says he gets a kick out of just bumping into Roma fans on his travels internationally.
”I was in Miami a few months ago and in four days walking around I had 73 people come up to me and talk about Roma - on the street, in bars, in restaurants.
“I was in Austin, Texas and they have a Roma fans bar there.”
Deals with Nike and Disney and a partnership with Major League Soccer should help further expand Roma’s presence in the U.S. and the club is also looking to develop links with youth programmes in North America.
“The demographics of all the work that we have done suggests that European football is going to be much, much bigger than anybody believes here in the States,” he said.
“The viewing habits at a lot of colleges suggest it is the first or second most watched sport in their intentions for the next 12 months.”
Pallotta believes there is no conflict between fans supporting their local teams in MLS and also having a European team they strongly identify with and can follow on television.
“If I am a Seattle Sounders fan why shouldn’t I also be a Roma fan? You see that all the time now in those (MLS) cities.”
Part of Roma’s success will however depend on Serie A re-emerging as a major league to compete for global eyeballs with England’s Premier League and Spain’s La Liga.
While Italian clubs have faded in European competition and the league has struggled to develop itself as an appealing television product, Pallotta believes there is potential for an Italian revival.
”If you look at the other leagues - in Spain there are three great teams, in Germany a couple, in France one or two, Premier League maybe six.
”I actually think in Italy there are six clubs who can play with anyone.
”I think sometimes leagues or teams can rest on their laurels. I think that is the case in some of the areas in Italy, they just took it for granted. You just can‘t.
”We are doing guerilla work, we just have to do it every single day.
“We have great macro plans but we just have to do it every single day. It’s about execution now.” (Editing by Greg Stutchbury/Amlan Chakraborty)