Lazio President Lotito’s Olimpico fight brings stadia rent into the spotlight

Lazio President Claudio Lotito cannot keep away from the limelight at the moment. His outspoken views on the harsh refereeing decisions he believes his side are receiving have already caught the ears of those at the FIGC, and the traditional big clubs in Italy have singled him out as the individual who helped the medium-to-small clubs succeed in their battle over TV rights. Now he has decided to take on CONI (the Italian Olympic Committee) over the rent for the use of the Stadio Olimpico.

Laziobig

As is the case with almost all stadia in Italy, the clubs rent them from the local municipalities and councils. The Olimpico is slightly different because CONI lease it to Lazio and Roma each season, and not the local council, but the premise is still the same.

In mid-April, CONI sent a letter to Lazio regarding use of the stadium for 2011/12, also informing them of the outstanding debt on the club’s lease of the stadium for the 2010/11 season. The debt stood at just over €2m, including interest that had accrued (Roma had one for €800,000, which has now been paid). Lotito wanted to pay €700,000 of it, and then the rest later on, as usually happens each season. CONI refused to budge, and wanted the entire debt paid in one sum by 27 April.

This situation would have impacted on the club’s ability to play in Europe. The UEFA deadline for registering a stadium for European home games approached, and as Lazio did not at the time have use of the Olimpico for 2011/12 (due to the outstanding debts from 2010/11), they had to register a different stadium, the Artemio Franchi in Florence, in order to gain the UEFA license to play in their competitions.

In any case, Lazio’s debt to CONI has to be paid by 30 June, otherwise they will not be able to use the Olimpico for Serie A games next season (and unlike European matches, it is not as easy to simply pick another ground). Although the interest will have taken the sum to around €2.2m by then, the debt will still be paid. The nomination of the Artemio Franchi is simply an insurance policy to meet the UEFA deadline – Lotito can change the stadium used for UEFA games at a later date when he has secured use of the Olimpico.

The whole saga has brought into sharp focus the nonsensical state of affairs existing with stadia ownership in Italy, which many believe was one of Lotito’s goals in the first place. Not only does each club pay rent, but a large chunk of money from gate receipts too. It is why Inter can have an average attendance for 2009/10 of 55,957, and yet only earn €38.6m in matchday revenue.

Lotito feels his club and Roma ”are damaged with respect to what happens elsewhere.” Certainly, his citation of the costs his club has to pay if they want to improve the stadium (one third of the renovation costs) suggests it might be the case, but when it comes to rent, all clubs are having to pay the price of Italy’s leasing system. Milan’s latest accounts showed they paid €760,000 to rent San Siro, while Napoli paid around €600,000 for the San Paolo.

Milan Vice-President Adriano Galliani continues to moan about taxation differences between Italy and elsewhere (namely Spain, although the tax break Galliani refers to was stopped in January 2010), but when it comes to off-the-pitch success, Italy are being defeated by their own system.

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