Sunday 31 March 2013

Udinese, Yet Again The Example

Udinese captain Antonio Di Natale (left) greets Mayor Furio Honsell 
The mayor of Udine, Furio Honsell, is probably used to tortuous complexities given that he was a Professor of mathematics at the Universit√† di Udine until he decided to enter municipal politics in 2008.  He ran successfully as a center-left candidate in the mayoral elections in April of that same year, succeeding the conservative Sergio Cecotti, and has since been the incumbent.

Italian football fans who don't have a keen interest in Italian polity had probably never heard of him until Friday, when Udinese owner Giampaolo Pozzo emphasized Honsell's "bureaucratic miracle" in helping complete the deal that will finally allow, after a ten-year quest, Udinese to begin construction and maintenance work on the Stadio Friuli, which they will now own.

And it was probably not hyperbole on Pozzo's part.  In the absence of any binding legislation, it is a colossally complicated task to ratify construction or the rehabilitation of stadia across Italy.  To Honsell, the challenge of the Italian bureaucracy must have surpassed the one of Lambda Calculus.  Mediating between the city council, eager to exact rent for the stadium, and the club, longing for private ownership of the stadium to boost revenue, must have been an arduous negotiation.

In the late fall of 2011, Honsell communicated how difficult things were, announcing that he was trying to find a solution for Stadio Friuli's refurbishment, and the logistical requirements of concerts in the stadium.  It is precisely these pressures that make club ownership of stadia so difficult in Italy.  City councils want to ensure their own large stake in lucrative activities that go on in the stadium, and by keeping a firm grip on ownership they can do precisely that.  

It is to the mayor's credit that he ensured Udinese become the third club--after Reggiana (not to be confused with Reggina) and Juventus--to own their stadium, granting a huge boost to a club that has been conscientiously profitable on a modest budget for years.

Similar to Juventus's deal with the Turin coucil, Udinese have obtained a land-lease of 99 years.  They will begin working on the stadium after the end of the current season, reducing its capacity by about 16,000 to 25,000 seats.  Crucially, however, they will now be the exclusive, private owners of the stadium, which allows them to capitalize on matchday revenue without having to pay onerous rent to the city council.

The latest "lease" from the city in this case is nominal and symbolic:  a small sum paid at up front, similar to the single euro that Juventus paid the Turin council before they demolished the Stadio Delle Alpi and built their glowing Juventus Stadium in its place.

Udinese won't be demolishing Stadio Friuli, but they will be dramatically changing its look and feel.

"The stadium will be modern, and have facilities open all week to the public," said Pozzo, underlining the importance of having a stadium that is more an experience than merely a venue.

"As for the fans, they’ll have a stadium with covered seating and every comfort from hospitality to restaurants and pre-match entertainment. The people of the city will also have an area of 20,000 square metres that can be used every day”(football-italia).

Perhaps the most telling thing Pozzo said was that the new stadium will undoubtedly boost revenue, which in turn will allow Udinese to hold onto their players longer.  For a club that produces superb talents only to sell them for unmissable profits, this will be a profound change in modus operandi.

It cost Juventus more than 120 million euros to build their stadium.  However, Udinese's project is on a smaller scale and should cost a third of that (with about 26 million euros required at the start of the project), given that this is more of a reconstruction of parts of the Stadio Friuli than a demolition job.

The construction will also remedy the problem of the track that encircles the pitch, quite similarly to how it used to at the Stadio Delle Alpi.  The stands will now be closer to the action.  Most of the changes should be ready by the start of the 2014 season.

Udinese's success should embolden clubs who have had only nascent success (Roma, Catania etc.) with their stadia plans thus far.  While the law that would make private ownership of stadia much easier, Legge Crimi, has been abandoned, Pozzo and Honsell amply demonstrate that a headstrong determination to deliver results can help clubs reach this essential business objective.  Of course, some city councils are easier to deal with than others, but there needs to be a more serious, concerted effort to permit Italian clubs to own their homes.

Juventus and Udinese may be on opposing ends of the spectrum when it comes to many factors--financial, success on the pitch--but the two clubs also have more in common than just the colour of their shirts: a vision and the determination to realize it.


  1. That's encouraging to read. Wondering how long it would take before we see Milan owning San Siro exclusively, if that were to happen at all.

  2. The challenges must be significant in Milan. I am hopeful of having our own stadium within the next five years. After all, if the club is serious about their new business model, then a stadium is essential. Let's see how we negotiate the bureaucracy. Thanks for the comment.