Italian club AS Roma were in full form when they thrashed Zaglebie Lubin 4-0 at Wrigley Field on Sunday. They'll face another top European club tonight when they take on Liverpool at Fenway Park in Boston.
"Rome is like New York City in the sense that a winning team in Rome is just a different level than most teams and most cities around the world," said Mark Pannes, the Chief Executive Officer of AS Roma.
Pannes has served as CEO of the club since December 2011. He is part of the new leadership team at Roma that includes Majority Owner James Pallotta, President Tom DiBenedetto and Sports Director Walter Sabatini. In August of 2011, the new ownership group completed the purchase of 60 percent of the club under the parent company NEEP Roma Holding S.p.A.
"We view Rome as one of the handful of great cities in the world and it's a pilgrimage city," said Pannes. "People go to Rome as one of the big events in their life. So the idea that we can then turn around with Rome out to the rest of the world is a great opportunity."
Pannes was surprisingly open when discussing the way the club will continue to grow as a worldwide brand.
"You can use the catch phrases, you can say it's brand building, it's marketing, but at the end of the day, we have to generate revenue to be able to invest back into the football side to be competitive, to then go play Champions League, to then generate a lot more revenue to push back in the football side," he said. "So if we can leverage the city of Rome in doing that, then that's an advantage we have that almost no other club in the world has."
A big part of this global plan is outreach in the United States. The club will be Disney's club in residence for the next seven years, meaning that the club will bring its first-team squad every year to Orlando, Fla. for the Italian season's winter break to train and play a friendly match.
And while Pannes sees this partnership with Disney as a great platform to market the club to American fans, he says he doesn't see this as a short-term financial boom for the club.
"I think, for years, clubs used to come through the US in kind of a smash-and-grab mentality where they would just tour through...a country once every 4 or 5 years and then disappear, doing it just for appearance fees, and that's not the case with us," he said. "We have a very long-term vision about being hopefully the most popular club in the US."
In addition to the Disney camp, the club is looking to return stateside during the summer on years in which a major tournament (World Cup or European Championship) is being played, due to the American tour being shorter and having longer tours around the rest of the world in non-major tournament years.
The match at Wrigley Field drew an attendance of 22,181; a decent but not spectacular number. Pannes admitted that a number of aspects about running the club, including the tours, are a learning process.
"It's so important when you become the new investors managing a business like a football club where for that first year, first couple of years, you just have to do it. You have to pull off the tour," he said. "I think the tour for us is a big learning experience."
Numerous clubs including Manchester United and Liverpool have had to deal with negative feedback due to foreign owners in general and American owners in particular. Chris Govoni, the Editor of AS Roma's SB Nation website Chiesa Di Totti says that while the club have made some positive improvements, the new ownership group hasn't been perfect.
"There is no 3D hologram of a Big Mac wearing an American bandana on the front of the shirt as some fretted," he joked. "But as much as they've gone oversees with the American focus, they've also eschewed bigger, more established players in the transfer pool while dumping a lot of household names to risk a great deal on youth."
Govoni added that winning does more to build a club than anything else.
"Marketing is one thing, but a continued Champions League presence is far more important to brand building than preseason friendlies," he said. "They need to focus on doing it the old fashioned way: results."
Pannes says that Roma has tried to avoid those issues by respecting the club history and making decisions that help the club get better.
"We've tried to be very respectful of the heritage that the club has," he said. "I think it's embracing that and I think also a lot of times it's better to listen than to speak, so we've tried to step in and take the environment to what it is and try to be additive."
He added: "The fan-base in Rome is just amazing. There are nine morning radio talk shows year round devoted to AS Roma. There's an independent newspaper that's solely devoted to AS Roma. So if our very sophisticated fan-base sees you operating in a certain way and it's making positive contributions to the club, then they support it."