Forza, Venezia!

New Yorkers know Joe Tacopina as a famous attorney. He’s defended the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Michael Jackson and Bernard Kerik. The New York Times said, “Mr. Tacopina is to the defense bar what Donald Trump is to real estate.”

Westporters know him as a friend and neighbor.

Italians know Tacopina as the man who is bringing American sports business management to some of the top soccer clubs in the world.

Joe Tacopina

Joe Tacopina

Tacopina — whose parents were born in Rome, who has dual US and Italian citizenship, and who says “soccer is in my blood” — was a director of world-renowned AS Roma, the 1st foreign-owned club in Serie A (the Italian top division).

He spent 11 months as president of Bologna — another Serie A  team.

Now he’s working his magic at Venezia. Venice’s team is languishing in Serie D — Italy’s 4th division. But Tacopina hopes to drive the side to the top.

He’s not doing it alone. His fellow investors include several Westporters.

It’s no easy task. Italian soccer is notoriously cutthroat.

And Tacopina is keeping his day job. “I sacrifice sleep,” he says. When he’s in Venice, he Skypes at night with his New York law office.

Yet, he insists, “this is a labor of passion.”

When he first went to Italy for legal work, he stayed over on weekends so he could attend professional soccer matches.

“I was captivated by the emotional experience,” he says. “You can’t explain it to someone who has never been there. Huge crowds singing and chanting in unison for 2 hours — you feel the entire stadium move. You get goosebumps.”

A typical scene in Serie A.

A typical scene in Serie A.

However, he says, a decade ago “the game and fan experience was slipping. Stadiums were antiquated and dirty.”

He wrote some suggestions for the Italian soccer federation on the back of a napkin. A friend suggested a better idea: Buy a team and fix it.

That’s what Tacopina did, again and again.

RomaImporting a North  American sports business model, he helped triple Roma’s valuation to over $400 million. In less than a year, Bologna’s valuation tripled too.

In July, Tacopina became the 1st foreigner to win the Carlino D’Oro. The annual award is presented for contributions to Italian soccer.

Venice can be “the biggest success story yet,” Tacopina says. “There’s enormous upside.”

Westport businessman Jim Daniels — whose 2 sons play Staples High School soccer — and sports attorney John Goldman are fellow investors. Financial guru Mark Gudis — another Westporter, with one Staples soccer alum and a current senior player — has consulted on the project.

Tacopina and his partners know what to do on the business side: raise brand awareness and revenues.

On the sporting side, Tacopina says, “I think I know. But I don’t try to pick all the players.” He’s hired Giorgio Perinetti — the man who brought Diego Maradona to Italy — as sporting director.

Joe Tacopina at Venezia

Joe Tacopina at Venezia

The new owners have a 5-year plan. It includes a 28,000-seat stadium project (the mayor has pledged land near the airport), and selling naming rights to major corporations.

Venice is one of the world’s most famous cities. But, Tacopina says, its fan base has been neglected and dormant for years. They’re waking up: The 1st match under the new regime drew the biggest crowd in 15 years.

This season, Venezia is undefeated — 9-0-2.

“It’s very exciting in terms of both soccer and business,” Tacopina notes. “The Wall Street Journal says that for anyone who wants to buy a professional team in an elite league, Italian soccer is the only place where something is undervalued.”

The Venezia club sold for $6 million, though the new owners will investment more in improvements.

By contrast, the Los Angeles Clippers — “the 2nd team in the city, without their own arena” — sold for $2 billion, Tacopina says.

But the money seems almost secondary to the soccer.

“This is a special project to me,” Tacopina says. “It’s my passion. And I’m doing this with my Westport friends.”

 

 

One response to “Forza, Venezia!

  1. Dan Lasley (Laz)

    This is very cool.