Roma owner: New stadium will be plug and play but it's too early for VR
By Simon Ward at Leaders Meet Innovation in London
AS Roma’s planned new stadium has been designed to be “plug and play” so that it is ready for technology advances, but will not embrace virtual reality, at least to begin with, according to the Italian soccer club’s owner.
James Pallotta described existing VR solutions as "nice" and "cute" but not "really suited for what I would want in the stadium."
Last month, the prominent Serie A outfit finally received the necessary approvals from four local authorities to proceed with the construction of the 55,000-capacity Stadio della Roma in the Tor di Valle area in the south of Rome.
It is anticipated that Roma will break ground in June, and leave the Stadio Olimpico, their present home shared with rivals Lazio, for the new stadium in time for the 2020-21 season.
While frustrated at the bureaucratic delays that have pushed back the opening date of the stadium, which was first proposed in March 2014, with an envisaged completion date of 2016-17, US businessman Pallotta is determined that it will be an ultra-modern venue with the most practical technology, including the best solutions for payment systems and facial recognition technology for tickets.
Speaking at the Leaders Meet Innovation conference here in London today, Pallotta (pictured, left) said: “We don’t want to build tech for tech’s sake. What we did was come at it at a different angle. When we did tours of stadiums, we would see what mistakes were made.
“You would look at what type of wi-fi they put in. Let’s take Atlanta [the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium]. They’ve had issues with the roof, but they poured most of the concrete before they decided on the tech.
“We built out a grid, with over 100 different variables… [before deciding] who is our system integrator… We looked at it as a partnership rather than a sponsorship thing. We were really trying to find out what was the best technology, and that’s what we’ve been doing for the last three years.
“Everything we’re doing doesn’t have to be leading edge, but it has to be plug and play so it can be upgraded in five years.”
Pallotta, the head of a consortium which acquired Roma in 2011, is bringing his experiences from US sport, as co-owner of the Boston Celtics, and is keen to increase engagement with the club’s fans by getting more data on them.
He said: “We want to make sure that everything is tied in when someone leaves the house [for a match], that they are tied to our systems – our fan programme, our membership programme, our loyalty programmes.”
Pallotta insisted the need to be flexible was demonstrated by the fact that wi-fi plans change every three months, but is yet to won over by the VR solutions being rolled out by various technology companies, which claim to offer an immersive experience for fans watching sports live at venues and at home.
He said: “It’s nice, but it’s not an experience that I think right now is really suited for what I would want in the stadium.”
Pallotta added: “We can have discussions on it. I’ve gone and visited all of them [the companies] and I’ve used the stuff, and I’ve been in Microsoft’s campus and Samsung’s. It will come and it will be great, but it’s versions one and two, and we feel you need versions three and four for it to really make sense for us.”
“It’s nice, it’s cute right now, and, at some point, it’s certainly going to be massive. That’s what I mean by plug and play. We want to make sure that whoever we have [as wi-fi provider], say Cisco or Huawei, they can serve us in Italy, and then we want to make sure that… the services work together if we do virtual reality.”
Roma’s new stadium, which is being planned in partnership with AEG, the US sports and entertainment company, will join a very small number of Italian top-flight soccer venues not rented from another operator (Juventus, Sassuolo and Udinese are the only Serie A clubs to own their own grounds) and Pallotta believes the added prestige and income will help take his team to a new level at home and abroad.
He said: “The only way you become a global brand is if you have your own stadium. If you’re trying to compete with Real Madrid, Juventus and the Premier League, it’s difficult if you don’t have your own stadium.”
On his goals for the future, Pellotta said: “If there’s three billion football fans out there in the world, and I can get one per cent of them to have Roma as their second-favourite team, that’s 30 million fans, and if we can get them to spend $5 each, that’s $150 million in revenue. That’s how the numbers can work.”
The Roma owner has been in London for a summit with the club’s management ahead of tonight’s NBA game in the UK capital between the Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers.
An outstanding issue remains Roma’s lack of a shirt sponsor, although it is thought that the four-year absence could be coming to an end with Gazzetta dello Sport reporting this week that offers have been received from Turkish Airlines and an unnamed electronics company, albeit they fell short of the amount desired.
In March of last year, Pallotta admitted that errors had been made in the search for sponsors for Roma’s shirts and new stadium.
He said: “Simply put, the strategy that was put in place at the beginning with the agency we hired was wrong, trying to connect the shirt sponsor to the stadium. The second mistake was we really thought we’d have approval on the stadium well over a year ago, but the change of mayor and a few other things delayed that.”
• AC Milan have denied claims that they will leave their San Siro home after the city’s mayor raised the possibility that a new stadium could be built.
Milan presently share the 80,000 capacity San Siro, which opened in 1926, with rivals Internazionale, and are exploring redevelopment options.
Responding to mayor Giuseppe Sala’s claim, AC Milan issued a statement saying it “has never expressed the desire to leave San Siro.
"Although AC Milan considers important for its future to play in an owned stadium, therefore not sharing it with other teams, the decision on which can be the future sports facilities of the Milanese teams can be taken in adequate time and with full agreement of all the parties involved.
"It is for this reason that AC Milan, together with the City Council, have started a series of meetings and is evaluating the areas available on the territory, taking into consideration the value of San Siro and the possible redevelopment of the stadium. Only at the conclusion of this path will all the parties involved be able to express a full evaluation and eventually take decisions."
Sala acknowledged the response, writing on Twitter: “I note Milan's statement on San Siro. Let's just make this simple: I think that for Milan, for the fans and the tourists, the stadium needs to be modernised."