Rocco Commisso was born in Calabria and moved to America aged 12 as a poor immigrant, but is now worth an estimated $5bn after founding cable company Mediacom. He returned to Italy in triumph as new President of Fiorentina, ending 17 years of Della Valle rule.
Commisso sat down exclusively with Football Italia Chief Correspondent Richard Hall to go over what made him purchase the Serie A side.
Your takeover of Fiorentina has lifted the fans. What were the initial reasons for the purchase and what potential did you see in the club?
I have owned my company now for 20 plus years and the financial condition has improved so much, that I became enamoured with the idea of buying a soccer team. So, back in 2016, I was introduced to the Fiorentina project as they were looking to sell. I put a bid in and nothing happened. I think the sellers, the Della Valle brothers, took it off the market. Then, in 2017 the same thing happened again, so in that year I bought the New York Cosmos and this was my professional entry into soccer.
In 2018 I had issues with US Soccer and other opportunities came up, including Milan. Then, there was an approach from Fiorentina, although I have to say I never met the principles. I said ‘well if the price is right’ which it was, and we proceeded to sign a letter of intent. We had done the financial due diligence, but we still had the due diligence to do around the facilities. We did this and that was it: we had Fiorentina.
What can the fans expect from your tenure at the club? Can you keep hold of key assets like Chiesa and how can you build on what already exists?
Look, I’ll tell you what I told the Mayor of Florence. I’m 69 years old, I want to make good on this investment and get Fiorentina back to a place that they desire to be. I have the plan and the means, but it will not be immediate. It will take time and the fans need to realise that. We want to improve the revenue base. Look at Juventus in comparison, they have a revenue base of €400m, Fiorentina have a revenue base of around €100m. This is down to the brand, the more money you make, the more you invest, the more you invest, the more money you make, it’s a vicious cycle.
The uplift for Juventus came with the stadium, we also need to look at our options, but remember my message is: give me time. We will make the right decisions on the pitch and make the right acquisitions with the team.
We also had meetings already about what we do with the entire infrastructure. This includes improving the offices and also the training ground. We want to have a Centro Sportivo, we want the Primavera, the youth team and the women’s team all to practice is the same centre as the first team.
We have also had meetings about the stadium, are we fixing it, rebuilding it, moving it? People need to understand that we need to invest to change the infrastructure, this is so we can make money to then invest again. We can't just throw €100m at the squad because of FFP. That is why we need time.
As for Chiesa, going back to the question, he I very much part of our project, this team needs quality not quantity in the squad.
What did the International Champions Cup mean to you, as Fiorentina got to play in the US and particularly New York?
So much. Charlie Stillitano, who you know, called me up, he is a friend I have known for many years. He said, I have a surprise for you, Fiorentina will be part of the tournament in the US. I was really happy because this meant I could expose the Fiorentina brand in the US, as we were playing in Chicago, Charlotte and in my hometown of New York.
I think this was the beginning of our branding opportunity, because as I said, in order to increase revenue, you need to have brand recognition. The obvious things, like exposing the US to the Fiorentina shirt, is critical. The beauty about Fiorentina and in particular Florence, is that in my opinion it is the most beautiful city in the world. Look at how many tourists it has. Now we need to make the football club one of the attractions.