Until an unfortunate outbreak following recent international fixtures, how did you, as a club, support the players and staff at Udinese through the COVID-19 pandemic and maintain a COVID-free environment for so long?
Udinese has invested in a considerable manner in order to protect the squad and the whole club from Covid 19. The active security measures at the Dacia Arena are extremely rigid and are applied constantly for the players and the staff. Our doctors have developed a protocol that was supervised by the health authorities. The Dacia Arena has ample spaces at its disposal, and this allows us to guarantee social distancing. We are constantly committed to respecting and enforcing all the protocols of the Italian law, those of the sport authorities, and on top of that, we integrated all these norms with extra precautions not only for the athletes and staff, but also with everyone which collaborates and comes into contact with Udinese Calcio.
Over the summer, a reduced number of fans were allowed back into stadia around Italy, until cases began to rise once more. Similar measures will be re-introduced in January onwards – how do you feel that having fans in the stadium once again will impact the team, and the atmosphere around the club, and the financial aspect of ticket revenue?
Health and safety comes first. This is the mandatory assumption to accept the rules put in place. To play in a stadium with no fans is something absolutely unnatural for the players as well as the whole system that gravitates around football. As of today, whilst Italy remains one of the countries most affected by the Coronavirus, the rules remain very rigid, and we hope that in January, with the arrival of the vaccine, and the expected improvement of the health situation, the public will be allowed back In the stadium. The lack of supporters has been felt on the pitch, but also in the other aspects that represent the business plan of Udinese. Our stadium, in fact, is lived 365 days a year in normal health conditions, as it has a conference center, meeting rooms, and, during the match day, very interactive hospitality programs. With no public, none of this is happening.
Serie A has recently set up a new media company to handle the broadcast rights for top-flight Italian soccer. What are your thoughts on the new media arm of the Serie A, and how will it affect Udinese?
Udinese Calcio considers the creation of a media company for the management of TV rights, together with the investment of CVC Capital Partners, strategic elements to guarantee a strategic development. The media company, thanks to its own governance focused on the objective of handling the TV rights, and the resources guaranteed from CVC are the instruments to optimize Italian Football. The mid term objective is to increase the returns linked to TV rights, and I believe that the direct negotiation with the broadcasters will have a central role. It is clear that the increase of resources will have to be reinvested by the clubs with the precise objective to elevate the competitiveness and quality: In this way a virtuous circle will be created which will increase the value of Italian football.
Interestingly, Udinese were one of five clubs to abstain from voting as CVC Capital Partners enter exclusive negotiations with the Serie A for a 10% stake in the aforementioned media company. Could you please give us an insight as to why this was the case?
Our choice has to be interpreted as a choice of prudence and evaluation. At the time of the vote, not all the necessary information had been distributed, some of the strategic details of the operation were not sufficiently clear. Our position today is very clear and transparent: the vicepresident of Udinese Calcio is a member of the negotiating committee. Our abstention was exclusively a demand for clarity.
Always ahead of the curve, Udinese are a noticeably creative club – where does that spark come from when it comes to continually innovating and changing the game, and what are some of the more recent projects that Udinese is involved in?
“Creative” is a definition that I like very much. Udinese has always worked with commitment to develop projects. I think that what you call creativity is our way to overcome the limits dictated by the fact that we are a company that belongs to a small territory with a user base of 1 million inhabitants. In order to stay in Serie A for 26 consecutive years, to have the strength to compete with clubs whose user base is of many million inhabitants, it is necessary to develop ideas and projects to increase the critical mass, the financing possibilities and keep constant the public interest and affiliation. This is how you see our initiatives linked to the Dacia Arena, whose objective is to become the sporting focus point for a public which is broad and not linked only to football, but to the common denominator of excellence in sport, the investment and interest in E sports, which will have a home in the Dacia Arena, the involvement of the business community of the north east, who has in our stadium a point of reference every day of the year. In our future there is also a big investment in eco sustainability, achieved in partnership with our partners Bluenergy and Macron.
Udinese have just announced a partnership with Amazon – what were the main aspirations for this partnership, and how will it allow you to increase your accessibility to Udinese fans around the globe?
The opening of a virtual store inside Amazon, represents for us an important step, alongside with the prestigious results obtained by our physical store opened inside the Dacia Arena in pre Covid times. Amazon seemed to us the best distribution channel to bring our merchandising around the world, in the houses of the many Udinese fans. The second shirt of this season is dedicated to the “fogolars Furlan”, the communities of “Friulani” scattered around the world. It was a very successful initiative which gave a lot of affection to Udinese, an initiative that required a distribution channel with presence in the whole world. Hence the choice to work with Amazon.
Udinese have an eSports arm, while FIFA eSports is on the rise in terms of popularity – how important is it for you as a club to be part of a rapidly progressing part of modern-day sports, and to generally stay on top of the latest trends?
Without a doubt the Covid era accelerated our entry into the world of e-sports.
The project was already planned, but in February 2020, shortly after the lockdown, we decided to speed up the process and invest more in this project which today sees us ready to excel also in this emerging sector. We have a Udinese e-sport team, and an academy with already 40 young gamers, we are working on the creation of a community around our team, and we are convinced that all this will enlarge further, also with a young fan base, our public. We are ready to participate in the first edition of the eSerieATIM in 2021.
Udinese is known for having an impressive scouting network, having brought the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Juan Cuadrado and Samir Handanovic (among many others) into the Serie A, before selling them on for a great profit. What is it about your scouting network that sets you apart from the rest of the field?
I believe that Udinese, in the past created a scouting model and benefited for a long time of a competitive advantage thanks to its own capacities in discovering new talents, playing them and therefore seeing them. Our scouting department is one of the most active, and without false modesty, one if the best in the world. Today technology supports all the teams in making the best choices, platforms like WyScout and Instat support the decisions and allow you to do what we always did in an analogic way, supported by a vast network of people around the world. I believe that our system, integrated with technology, is still the best solution to support the choices that a company needs to do.
Udinese have a strong link with English club Watford FC, among others. What are the benefits of this link between Udinese and other clubs, and how important are these types of strategic partnerships?
The internationalization is one of the keys to the success of Udinese. The Pozzo family, with great foresight, understood first that a club like Udinese works better if put in an international dimension. The advantages are numerous, starting from the more obvious one and linked to the possibility of having excellent players to play. The synergies involve all the sectors, the medical and athletic one, the stadium management one and marketing. The best experiences, the things that work are shared and become common knowledge heritage.