Shockwaves were sent through Rome a couple of weeks ago when it was announced that Lazio had officially registered the Stadio Artemio Franchi, the home of Fiorentina, as their home stadium for European fixtures next season. Laziali were left baffled and bemused as the decision was confirmed by SS Lazio. Without hesitation, many pointed the finger at Claudio Lotito, accusing him of pulling the latest in a long line of stunts. A few weeks on and Lazio are still set to play Champion’s League or Europa League in Florence with their Serie A status in jeopardy amidst a refusal to pay rent for use of the Stadio Olimpico. Now that the dust has settled on the saga, is Claudio Lotito still in the wrong?
In actual fact, Lotito was not the first to act. The Olimpico rent deadline was inexplicably brought forward, forcing the president to pay up prior to knowing our European fate. Consequently, Lotito arranged a stadium share with Fiorentina and the Viola agreed (you have to wonder why…) and have since clarified that their angry tifosi have nothing to worry about as it is only a temporary solution. Just how temporary is temporary? The likelihood is Lotito will end up paying the rent at the end of the month and the Olimpico will once again be home. So why pull the stunt in the first place?
There are two possible theories, either or both of which could be Lotito’s logic. The most likely explanation is that Lotito is trying to bargain down the rent price. In a typical Serie A season, it costs Lazio approximately three million to rent the Olimpico. Not much in soccer terms you may say and you would be correct to think that but with European football guaranteed, there will be more games at the Olimpico which may encourage negotiations. In other words, we could be charged more rent and we will already be paying more money as a result of playing more games. It is a Catch 22 situation and one Lotito is keen to avoid. However, he knows that as much as we need the Stadio Olimpico to showcase our calcio, the city of Rome needs us to contribute to their fund. This is now an epic game of chicken and you can bet your house that Lotito will leave it until the last possible second to… well, cluck. The second theory is that Lotito is trying to advance his stadium plans. Scare tactics in this case will probably do more good than harm if only because the chances of Lotito succeeding at present are slim. Very slim.
Where Lotito has most certainly succeeded recently is with the TV rights. Rumour has it that Lazio are set to earn 45 million euro as part of next season's packageBefore those dollar signs tart flashing before your eyes, do remember that you can add operating costs, debt repayment and our 30 million per annum salary budget to the list of expenses. In other words, that money will be gone faster than you can say 'mercato.'
In saying that, we will be receiving more money next season than we did for the current season and you can thank Lotito an 14 other presidents for that. As of this season, TV rights are being negotiated collectively as opposed to being negotiated individually. As a result, a system had to be put in place for the distribution of individual shares. It was decided that shares should be divided according to a club's fanbase. The 'Big 5', known better to you and I as Inter, AC Milan, Juventus, Roma and Napoli received the most money and understandably, they remain in favour of the current system. However, the smaller clubs of Serie A have been thinking up a solution for quite a while and have come to the conclusion that the distribution of TV rights money should take into consideration that some fans support a second team. In order to assess this, three polling agencies are being asked to conduct surveys to find out how much each side in Serie A is rightfully entitled to.
It has been an arduous process getting this system approved. The 'Big 5' are vehemently protesting and have launched several appeals; the latest has gone to CONI, the very same authority Lotito is at war with over the Olimpico rent. The theory of the 'Big 5' is that the TV rights package is already too little and that a financial loss is unavoidable and therefore the system proposed by the smaller clubs would put their long-term future in jeopardy. Of course, that argument has not got too far as the real problem lies with their unsustainably high expenditures. Most recently, they have also tried to argue that the criteria devised by the smaller clubs was not explained in sufficient detail. However, it has been suggested that this was merely an excuse to prevent the polls from being conducted immediately which would in turn, delay any decision on how the TV rights should be distributed. If they could stall it for long enough, the new proposal would not be passed in time for the new season. Unfortunately for the 'Big 5', Massimo Beretta, head of Lega Calcio, is in favour of the small club's proposal and gave it the green light in the form of a deciding vote when the council voted last week.
Lotito has also given the thumbs up to this proposal, but he has also hinted that he would like other factors to be entered into the equation. When discussing the matter recently, he said it was shameful that a club like Napoli, who were technically renamed six years ago having gone bankrupt and forced to set up stall in the lower divisions, are receiving more money than Lazio, who avoided a similar fate at a similar time and have an illustrious 111-year history to show for it. He has a point.
Negotiations are still possible while the 'Big 5' hope beyond hope that they can keep the current system. However, Lotito is primed and ready to eke out even more for Lazio. He is president of the biggest of the 'small' clubs and the smallest of the 'big' clubs. He has the best seat in the house. He holds the winning hand and if the latest speculation is accurate, he is just about to play his cards. My advice is to stay tuned...