MILAN (Reuters) - The new Chinese owners of Italian soccer club AC Milan plan to invest in a stadium and could eventually list the team on a stock market to help revive its fortunes, AC Milan’s chief executive-designate said on Friday.
Marco Fassone, an experienced soccer executive hired by the Chinese-led consortium to turn around the once high-flying and now loss-making AC Milan, said it needed its own stadium but this did not necessarily mean building a new one. He implied it could buy into Milan’s existing council-owned arena, San Siro.
“We want to give AC Milan a stadium in the short term,” Fassone told reporters a day after the consortium completed the purchase of AC Milan from former prime minister and media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi.
“We know that in Italy it cannot happen straight away... Whether it’s San Siro or a newly built stadium, as long as the club can have its own stadium.”
Currently, AC Milan and its local rival, Inter Milan, also Chinese-owned, rent the 80,000-seat San Siro arena from the Milan city council. By owning a stadium, AC Milan would gain a valuable new revenue stream, enabling it to control income from ticket sales and stadium advertising and marketing.
Fassone, a former executive at Inter and Juventus, said a stock market listing of AC Milan was a possibility but did not elaborate.
A source familiar with the matter said the club could be listed eventually in Hong Kong, on the doorstep of the huge Chinese market where AC Milan sees its financial future.
China’s vast number of soccer fans are avid watchers of European soccer, and the value of European TV rights there has been soaring. On Saturday, AC Milan and Inter were to play the city derby at 12.30 p.m. local time - prime time in China.
Fassone said AC Milan would also create in coming months a China-based company for marketing, licensing and commercial operations, which would feed into revenue growth.
The consortium bought the club for 740 million euros ($788 million) in a troubled deal that finally closed on Thursday, eight months after it was agreed. In selling, Berlusconi was unwilling to come up with the big new investments required to enable AC Milan to better compete with its big European rivals.
The consortium used a Luxembourg-based vehicle, Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux, to buy AC Milan, one of Italy’s most storied teams.
Rossoneri Sport is controlled by Chinese investor Li Yonghong but its full ownership has not been disclosed.
An anti-Mafia official at Milan’s city council renewed on Friday his call for the new Chinese owners to reveal their full identities, noting that it was important for the Milan council to know exactly who was using its San Siro stadium.
“I will renew my request today to know the real owners of AC Milan,” David Gentili, a politician who heads the council’s anti-Mafia commission, wrote in a Facebook post.
Fassone said that Li was the only shareholder and that he did not know if Li planned to bring in more investors.
The AC Milan purchase, the biggest Chinese investment in a European club, tightens China’s grip on Italian soccer. Retail giant Suning Commerce Group’s bought Inter Milan last year, and a Chinese firm also underwrites the media rights to Italy’s top league, Serie A.
Writing by Mark Bendeich; Editing by Silvia Aloisi/Mark Heinrich