Last week, reports surfaced about Cubs owner Tom Ricketts expressing interest in purchasing the legendary soccer club AC Milan. Why would Ricketts want to purchase a struggling Italian soccer club?
Well, for one thing, foreign soccer teams have become the latest must-have accessory for the super-rich American. But there are other reasons as well — and most of them having to do with money, said former Chicagoan and noted soccer journalist Roger Bennett, co-host of NBCSN’s “Men in Blazers.”
“One of the most fascinating storylines since I’ve been in America isn’t just that Americans are falling in love with world football but that world football is falling in love with America,” Bennett told the Tribune. “You have Bayern Munich, Juventus in Italy, Barcelona … they all covet the American fan. It’s this vast terrain of untapped fans. So you have all these teams trying to win the hearts and minds of the American fan.
“But at the same time, every sports entrepreneur in America is looking at these massive teams and thinking, ‘Why am I not owning one?’”
Apparently, American sports titans are coming to realize what the rest of the world has known for a while: Soccer is kind of a big deal. In May, Ricketts and Chicago developer Sterling Bay announced a joint venture to bring a United Soccer League expansion team to the planned Lincoln Yards development along the Chicago River.
Moreover, professional sports teams in the U.S. are bound by self-imposed restrictions that simply don’t exist abroad.
“I interviewed people with the Red Sox … they were one of the first (American) teams to buy a European soccer team and they told me two things,” Bennett said. “They found out that when Liverpool play Manchester United in the regular season, 600 million people around the world tune in … and they’re guaranteed to play twice a season. That dwarfs the Super Bowl.
“And then, the other thing is that when (they) sell a Red Sox cap, (they) have to share the revenue with every other owner in baseball. But then (they) found out that if (they) sell a Liverpool jersey, (they) get to keep all of that sweet money.”
What’s more American than that?
“America, it’s the home of capitalism,” Bennett points out. “It’s a free market economy everywhere but in sports. They look at these foreign teams, they’re not chained by a draft or a salary cap or revenue sharing.”
Public relations firm Edelman has been hired to represent the Ricketts family’s interest in AC Milan, according to the Associated Press. The firm says the family is considering “a medium- to long-period investment” in the troubled Serie A team and seeks to create “a strong bond with the city” of Milan.
“AC Milan is a sleeping giant,” Bennett said. “It’s a complicated club with a complicated situation but it’s definitely really worthy.”