Inter Milan Makes Room For Erick Thohir and the Challenges of Serie A


“I think Inter history is going to be enriched by a new season thanks to our new international partners who, I am sure, will contribute to a continued string of successes. The new partners’ enthusiasm and pragmatism are certainly a guarantee for the future” – Massimo Moratti

For much of the summer and even more so over the past month, rumors have been flying around about the imminent sale of Inter Milan and the exit of Massimo Moratti, a man who has embodied spirit and passion for a club who received 110% of it.

As reported by Business of Soccer new owners have finally been found for the Milan based club and despite Erick Thohir being the face, it is in fact a  group of three Indonesian business men who have purchased a total of 70% of the club, leaving Moratti and his family a 30% stake. As also reported, the price for the 70% stake is USD $342.3 million (€250 million at EUR-USD Exchange Rate of 1.3695). With the completion of this agreement, which technically is not finalized until the first payment is made, ownership is now spread across four major shareholders. Headlines will assert this as a sale to Erick Thohir, but in fact it is an investment of Erick Thohir at 35%, Rosan Roselani at 17.5%, and Handy Soetedjo at 17.5% under the investment group International Sports Capital, according to Forbes.

Much has been made of Thohir’s involvement in sports in the United states, with his minority investment in the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and MLS’ DC United. Both are significant investments of money and time, but he has been making forays into sports at home in Indonesia as well.  Through investments in two basketball teams as well as his co-ownership of the AirAsia Asean Basketball League with Malaysian Airline magnate Tony Fernandes, with Inter Milan Thohir adds probably the largest asset to his sports portfolio that he has been building for a decent amount of time.  Fittingly, his partner in the AirAsia Asean Basketball League, Tony Fernandes, is a stakeholder in the sport of soccer with his involvement with the recently relegated London based club Queens Park Rangers, previously in the Premier League.

Thohir’s activity with DC United and the 76ers , both of which have had certain improvements post involvement including a playoff berth for the 76ers as well as the implementation of plans for a new Stadium for DC United and most recently a US Open Cup title, were not done alone.  Thohir’s partners in Milan, Soetedjo and Roselani, have been involved in the 76ers as well as DC United.  Soetedjo, beyond sharing Indonesian nationality with Thohir, shares his involvement with the 76ers and has a connection to the state of Pennsylvania through his education at the University of Pittsburgh.  Roselani, also Indonesian, is a media partner with Thohir and his influence could be very important in expanding the global brand of Inter Milan, something that is also a goal of Thohir’s DC United plan.

While Thohir faces financial issues in Philadelphi,a as the team posted a $10 million operating loss in 2011, Thohir and his fellow new investors in Milan face a few uphill battles of their own in Italy that Moratti will surely be familiar with.  A recent Unibet compilation of data summarizes a few of the problems facing Italian soccer at the moment.

First and foremost, Serie A, and Italy in general, have some of the most outdated and fan-unfriendly stadia among the top four European leagues (La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, BPL).  It doesn’t help that in addition, Serie A boasts the lowest attendance average among the four leagues at 23,286.

In addition to stadium issues, there is a structural problem as well relating to player salaries.  Many comment on the outlandish level that player salaries have reached in recent years, and Serie A is no different.  The Italians have the 2nd highest average salary among the top four leagues at €2.1 million.  Combine that figure with the fact that while the other three leagues’ highest paid players receive 7-figure salaries, the highest paid player in Italy is Danielle De Rossi at €5.1 million.  These two figures contribute to an average that isn’t skewed much by outliers and creates a situation where quite a bit of money in the league is spent on salaries.

Thohir’s challenges aren’t completely devoid of potential though.  The stadium issue is something that with his recent experience beginning work on the new DC United stadium he could provide a fresh impetus to either bring Inter a new stadium or work on improving the fabled San Siro to create a new cutting edge aspect to the venue that it currently lacks, despite the atmosphere regularly seen at the stadium.

Another positive is the fact that despite low attendances, high salaries, and old stadiums, Serie A has the second highest TV revenue among the top four leagues, and is reported to be looking for an improved deal. That deal may very well be likely, especially considering they also have the second highest viewership among the top four leagues at a 4.5 million viewer average per game world wide.

While the salary challenges in Milan may be a little easier to deal with in Europe when compared to salary capped NBA and MLS teams, the stadium issue may be slightly more difficult, and the same goes for attendance issues.  However, he does have numerous media inroads related to the sources of his own personal fortune in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand; areas that every major club including Barcelona, Chelsea, and the two Manchester Clubs have made major efforts at appealing to both through pre season tours as well as media distribution deals.

Thohir has the potential to do many good things with Inter Milan.  He will not do it alone as he has two fellow new investors with whom he has a good business understanding through previous involvement. The maintenance of Moratti as a major stakeholder will help to ease any fears that this new investment could lead to all bluster and no heart.  If there is one quote from Thohir that should reassure Inter fans about their new investor it is this:

“When I do business, I have to have passion to do that business. Even if it means I don’t have enough time to sleep, no problem.”

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Reporting on the business side of the world's game.