Tacopina Revitalizes Soccer in Venice

Joe Tacopina, one of the country’s most successful trial attorneys, has also become a leading figure within the Italian football league. After a bid to purchase the Roma Club in 2008, Tacopina came back, in his words with a “mission was to be the first foreign person to purchase a Serie A team”.

He was successful in 2011. With partners, Tacopina acquired the nearly bankrupt Bologna club with the objective of applying the North American sports business model into Italian soccer. After just one year, due to differences with the other shareholders, Tacopina sold his ownership in the Bologna club. However, he is now back in the game, having won a license from Venice’s local authority to form a new soccer club in the city – Venezia FC. The city’s former club, FC Unione Venezia, had gone bankrupt, an unfortunate, but common occurrence within Venice. It was the third time within the past decade that a football (soccer club) had folded. Yet Tacopina is enthusiastic about the project. He has purchased the rights for the club for $6.7 million. And with his partners, has vowed to plow another $19 million into the club. The financial situation for the Venezia FC is unlike his prior experiences with AS Roma and Bologna. Both of those teams were bought while in perilous financial condition and riddled with debt. In the case of Venezia FC, the team is debt-free.

There are significant reasons why Italian soccer has declined in financial sustainability over the past 15 years. Tacopina believes one central issue is the conditions of the stadiums. He related his 2005 experience at the Rome Derby in the city’s Olimpico stadium to Sport Business International “I remember being overwhelmed by the passion, the emotion. It was something that even in the most important American sporting events you just don’t get. But the seats were dirty. I couldn’t buy a jersey or a hat for my kids…There were so many problems with what I was seeing. I sat there and on a napkin, I started writing a list of things to do to fix Italian soccer.”

The current stadium used by Venezia FC is Stadio Pierluigi, the second oldest stadium still in use in Italy, dating back to 1913. It only seats 7,500 fans in its typical configuration, but since it is in the historic part of Venice, the stadium boasts a magnificent view of the water. Tacopina has described the island-based stadium as “beautiful” yet “unpractical” home due to its isolated location, can only be reached by water and unable to compete in a modern age.

I too have seen the enthusiasm of the fan base that has so inspired Mr. Tacopina. The excitement within the fans in Penzo stadium is electric. His plans for the future include a new stadium complex (near the city’s Marco Polo Airport) that will significantly expand the capacity for fans. The complex will include a football stadium (seating approximately 22,000) with modern food services and team merchandise sales areas, plus an indoor sports arena. This project has the full support of the Venice mayor. Since there are also separate plans for a theme park, this could well become a destination location. As Italy eyes the opportunity of a successful Olympic bid, the infrastructure of stadiums available for events will come under extreme scrutiny. The Italian government recognizes this and there is currently a major push to revitalize stadiums that may play host to Olympic events and a favorable environment for the building of new stadiums. Under new Olympic bidding specifications, a country’s bid may include sporting venues well outside the host city’s proximity making a new stadium in Venice feasible for use as a future Olympic site.

One need only look at the recent events in Bologna to see how Tacopina has worked magic in the sport before. In 2011, along with Canadian businessman Joey Saputo, he bought Bologna FC, which was a financially crippled Serie B club. In less than a year, the team had tripled in value and moved up to Serie A. In the Bologna papers, Tacopina was described as a new and different figure (in sports), who has created a charismatic bond with the people.

It is evident that the passion that Tacopina brings to the sport is balanced with sound business logic. “Italian clubs are among the most undervalued franchises in sport,” he said. Tacopina believes that the market opportunities for sponsorship are enormous. His marketing team is in negotiations with global brands who want to be associated with the Venice club. The plans of the Serie D club owner are ambitious. As he has stated “we don’t just want to get into Serie A, we want to get into Europe,” and I am inclined to believe him.

About Joseph Tacopina – he has been regularly honored by media outlets nationwide for his keen insight in the areas of criminal defense and civil litigation. GQ Magazine has described him “the best-dressed, smoothest-talking, hardest-working criminal defense attorney going.”

While the New York Times noted: “Mr. Tacopina is to the defense bar what Donald Trump is to real estate.”

Over his career, Tacopina has built his reputation by trying dozens of cases to verdict, often involving high profile cases.

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