Alamy

18 May 2022 - 2:13 PM

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Alamy

Interview: New AS Roma Executive on commercial revolution in the Eternal city

  • AS Roma’s new CRO Ryan Norys comes with a CV bearing the names of the LA Dodgers, WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) and Manchester City. But none are as unique as AS Roma.
  • Norys acknowledges that there is scope to improve existing revenue streams at the Italian giants, but his job is also to better understand, grow and monetise the club’s audience at home and – particularly – further afield.
  • Why it matters: Italian clubs have long lagged rivals in other “Big 5” league in off pitch performance. Norys promises to uphold Roma’s unqiue local identity, while revolutionising its data driven approach.
  • The perspective: Conversations around sponsorship have changed in five years: from selling pitchside advertising and kit sponsorship visibility to conversion rates and digital monetisation opportunities.

Via a web cam in from an inauspicious office in Florida, where he is taking a brief break from life in the Eternal City, AS Roma’s new chief revenue officer, Ryan Norys, is trying to grapple with the uniqueness of his opportunity.

Norys, an American executive, has previously worked with some of the biggest brands in sport, including LA Dodgers, WWE and Manchester City. But none are quite like AS Roma. A team bearing the name and identity of arguably Europe’s greatest and most historic city.

An institution synonymous with iconic players like Francesco Totti, Giuseppe Gianni and Daniele De Rossi. A club with some of Europe’s most passionate and obsessive fans. And yet historic underachievers: just two peacetime Serie A titles, no trophy in 14 years, yet on the eve of its first European final in 38 years.

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AS Roma’s chief revenue officer, Ryan Norys

“There was a quote by Jose Mourinho the other day in which he talked about how when you step into Rome and the smells, the culture, how everything just bleeds Roma as a football club – and it really comes through the culture and the fabric of the entire city,” says Norys,

Mourinho’s quote –  “When you work in Rome, live in Rome and breathe Rome, you breathe this club because it is the real club of the city” – seems to embody what every Romanista knows about their club. The challenge facing Norys – due to the aforementioned underachievement, as well as the poor way that Serie A has for years been marketed internationally –  is to make sure that the rest of the world also knows it, buys into this idea and – Norys hopes – awakens Roma as a commercial powerhouse.

Challenges and responsibility

Yet with challenge comes responsibility. The commercial culture in US sport is very different to Europe, where fans have strong views on what they will and also should pay.

The scenario and his approach, he says, is very different from the Dodgers “who had 90 plus million dollars in sponsorship revenue alone.”

“Coming off back to back World Series titles, you could be a little bit more aggressive in the market,” he says, with understatement. “Whereas with Rome, we're being a lot more strategic in not only how we maintain that culture and ethos of the club locally, but as we carry on that messaging, how do we bring our fans along the journey with us without alienating them or making them feel like they're not the number one most important thing.”

Traditional revenue streams

Norys is reluctant to make comparisons with Manchester City, where he worked early in the last decade just as Abu Dhabi billions set it on a path from being north west England’s fourth club, to the biggest in Europe revenue-wise.

“You look at the way that that club was when I arrived, it was very local. It was very Manchester.  That was their culture and their values,” he says. But even within that traditional framework there is room for improvement.

“Roma - not to compare the two - but they're in a very similar way in the sense where we do have to be sensitive to pricing from a certain perspective as go directly to the fans... This year we did a tremendous job because we lowered the pricing on the tickets. We've gone to a more dynamic pricing model and it means that we can basically attract every fan. We had four or five matches of over 63,000 people. We had over a million fans. I think it was the largest in the previous maybe ten, 15 years in terms of number of fans that came to the stadium.”

Deeper understanding

His goal, he says, goes far beyond this and is to “change the way the club has operated historically and take them into this new era.” He sees possible parallels with PSG and what they have been able to do in harnessing their appeal with identifying with a great city. “Obviously, they've had some great support from partners, with Nike and Jordan Brand and so forth,” he adds.

“What we really want to do is switch from the IP and hospitality to a deep understanding of what potential new partners needs and business goals are,” he says.

“As part of that data, visibility and just data in general will be a cornerstone of all the new sponsorship proposals that we put together and create,” he says. He talks about better utilising data that Roma gets from its social media channels and digital output to not only drive fans to its “own and operated channels” but in providing enhanced opportunities to its partners.

The sponsorship conversation has changed, he says. In the past it was about selling pitchside advertising and kit sponsorship visibility. Now partners are asking about conversion rates, who the fans are, where the digital monetisation opportunities are.

“The world of sponsorship and partnership is changing dramatically,” he says. “If you're not taking a data driven approach, I think in the future it's going to hurt and it's going to impact the type of revenue that that you're driving. I also think that now, more than ever, this audience segmentation and knowing who your fan is can actually from a wide angle increase multiple levels of revenue.”

Stadium dilemma

The conversation returns to traditional revenue flows and Norys acknowledges the difficulties posed by Roma’s stadium situation. The Stadio Olimpico, which they share with Lazio, is owned by CONI, the National Olympic Committee, and not, he says,  “the easiest place to get to from a from a mobility perspective.”

Roma have invested in new hospitality areas so that it is “about as luxury as you can possibly get… knowing that you have to remove everything after every match”, but Norys is realistic about these limitations. A new stadium would deliver “tremendous new opportunities”.

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The Stadio Olimpico

Previous attempts to move the club into a new purpose built stadium have failed. Is there progress on a new stadium?

"I don't know the situation intimately. One thing is for sure, the ownership group is really ambitious and any club in the world would benefit from building a new stadium."

Broadcast potential

The FIGC have been slow in centrally marketing Serie A internationally in comparison to the EPL, LaLiga or Bundesliga. Norys says that better marketing the league and getting “more eyeballs, visibility and awareness” is on the agenda of Roma and other leading Italian clubs, but says that the league has shown its intention by opening a North American office.

He talks about how the EPL really took off in the US after its groundbreaking broadcast deal with NBC in 2014. This made English football more accessible and allowed clubs to ramp up their marketing and commercial efforts there. He has similar hopes for Serie A’s new broadcast deal with CBS and Paramount Plus.

“It's the first time where, aside from owning a subscription platform such as ESPN+, you can watch every single Serie A match that airs.”

Global ambition

Do Roma’s global aspirations centre on the US, where its owners – the Friedkins – are based and which has such a broad and affluent Italian diaspora? Norys says that it’s more complex and speaks in terms of seeking “quality audiences”.

“One of the first things I did was a fan audience analysis covering over 100 different touch points so we can identify not only where our fans are from a social perspective, but also who can actually watch our matches across the international markets,” he says.

“And what are we going to do to create permanent touch points in these markets for the club? And how are we going to increase the knowledge of our fanbase around the world so that we have the most intel we possibly can to grow the brand strategically in those markets and grow that local and international audience as well.”

He lists an array of countries, from UAE to Brazil to Egypt (where Roma had a big following from Mo Salah’s spell with the club), but says that China and the US are ultimately Roma’s top targets.

Eternal City

Then suddenly we are back to talk about the Eternal City, the uniqueness of the Italian capital and its football club – “breathing” AS Roma, as Mourinho had said.

The way the club “speaks” to fans outside Italy is much different to the way that it converses with those inside the country, says Norys.

“It's less on the player and football perspective and more of going back to our first conversation about the city of Rome - the culture and the food and the lifestyle.  Basically integrating Roma into it so that they look at it as more of a ‘I'm going to go and have a great vacation. It is a beautiful city in Rome, but I'd sure like to go during the season so I can attend Roma matches and be part of the culture of the club.’”