By Amy-Jo Crowley, Elvira Pollina and Giulio Piovaccari
LONDON/MILAN (Reuters) – Financiers who normally find it almost impossible to get the ear of the Agnelli family on the future of Italian soccer club Juventus say they now sense more of a willingness to listen.
The “Old Lady”, as Italy’s most successful soccer club is known, is in the midst of tackling off-pitch issues and spiralling costs as it attempts to regain its magic.
Against this backdrop, representatives of the Agnellis have been more open in recent weeks to listening to ideas about its financial future, including even the possibility of a minority partner, five people involved in regular talks with them said.
There is no suggestion, the people told Reuters, that this implies any imminent change in stance, pointing out that any possible decision would only come once there is clarity on the accounting and judicial clouds hanging over the club.
The Agnellis, who have steered Juventus for almost a century, own 64% through Exor, the holding company run by scion John Elkann which feeds dividend via its parent firm to several dozen family members.
“Our commitment to Juventus is unchanged and no meetings have taken place,” a spokesperson for Exor said when asked to comment by Reuters on Friday.
“Any suggestion to the contrary is totally without foundation, misleading and intended only to create uncertainty.”
Juventus has gobbled up 700 million euros ($771 million) in cash from shareholders over the past four years, roughly two thirds of which has come from Exor, in whose portfolio the club is the only major business not currently making money.
Despite the outlay, Juventus has not played a Champions League final since 2017 and three of the sources said that more significant investments are needed to make the club competitive at a European level, while widening its global commercial reach.
Elkann has previously denied that Juventus, which last posted a net profit in 2016-2017 but has lost more than 600 million euros in subsequent years, could need more cash.
However, the club has forecast another year of losses and has 180 million euros of debt due by the end of June next year.
And after its first trophy-less season in a decade during the 2021-22 season, the club risks being excluded from the next prestigious and lucrative Champions League tournament.
Juventus has appointed a caretaker board after the one led by ex-chairman Andrea Agnelli resigned in November as he, former executives and the club itself await a decision on whether they will stand trial over alleged financial crimes.
They have denied any wrongdoing.
Italian sports authorities will this month decide afresh on a case centred on transfer dealings by Juventus, which was initially docked 15 points in the current Serie A season before the sanction was later dropped. Juventus also faces potential new penalties, including further points deductions, in a separate case over alleged irregularities in payments to players.
‘FAIR PLAY’ With Italy’s top league mired in debt and struggling to recover from the financial hit of COVID-19, several of the sources said an investment partner could help the Agnellis devise a new strategy for Juventus.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, several said that taking Juventus private was widely seen in the investment community as the best way to tackle its troubles.
The Agnelli family has owned the club, which it listed in 2001, almost uninterrupted since 1923. British investment firm Lindsell Train is now the second largest investor with a 6.95% stake, regulatory filings show.
New potential co-investors could include Middle Eastern or Asian sovereign wealth funds, or U.S. funds or family offices, two sources said. Such investors would help lead commercial operations and have expertise in sponsorship, branding and broadcasting deals, one of these sources said.
The family could also consider a joint venture or commercial partnership instead of a minority investment, the source said, adding that the Agnellis were monitoring how the sales of rival clubs Manchester United and Inter Milan unfolded.
European soccer is increasingly dominated by a handful of clubs whose owners have deep pockets and are able to cover losses, testing the sector’s financial “fair play” rules.
Juventus ranked 11th in Deloitte’s European Money League published in January, based on its annual revenue of 400 million euros in 2021/22. Deloitte’s league was topped by England’s Manchester City, owned by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour, one of a new breed of owners who have transformed the European game.
Andrea Agnelli tried and failed in 2021 to set up a breakaway European Super League to boost revenues for top clubs by allowing them to earn a bigger slice of its income.
($1 = 0.9084 euros)
(Additional reporting and writing by Valentina Za; Editing by Elisa Martinuzzi and Alexander Smith)