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Società Sportiva Lazio SpA (SS Lazio) is the corporation behind one of Italy's oldest soccer teams, the first Italian soccer team to take a listing on the Milan stock exchange. Based in Rome--the team takes its name from Rome's Lazio region--SS Lazio has long stood at the top of the country's soccer rankings. The company won Italy's first division championship in 2000, marking its 100th anniversary. SS Lazio is majority owned by Sergio Cragnotti, who leads a conglomerate that also owns the country's top tomato sauce and dairy producer, Cirio. Under Cragnotti, SS Lazio has joined the big leagues of European soccer, paying millions in player salaries to boost the team's record. Most of SS Lazio's revenues come from television rights, which stood at 58 percent of sales in 2000. Season ticket sales added another 23 percent that year, while sponsorship contracts combined to form 11 percent of the team's revenues. Cragnotti, whose sold some 41 percent of his holding in the club during its public offering in 1998, owns slightly more than 50 percent of the team and remains its chairman. In 2001, Cragnotti announced his desire to step down as chairman and sell off his holding after enraged SS Lazio fans, protesting the sale of key players, dumped garbage on Cragnotti's front lawn.
Soccer Pioneer at the Turn of the Century
Società Sportiva Lazio came into being in 1900 when a group of friends, led by former Italian army officer Luigi Bigiarelli, founded a cross-country running club in Rome. Another sports club, Roma Gymnastica, had already claimed the city's name; therefore, the new group settled on the name, Società Podistica Lazio, taken from Rome's Lazio region. As team colors, the group chose the white and sky-blue of Olympics homeland, Greece--the club members were later affectionately nicknamed the "biancocelesti" (heavenly whites). Initially Bigiarelli and friends concentrated on running races; in 1902, however, the group discovered soccer, which was only then beginning to be introduced into Italy. Lazio won Rome's first-ever soccer match that same year and quickly dedicated itself to the game, changing its name to Società Sportiva Lazio.
Bigiarelli and company not only became ardent soccer proponents, helping to transform the game into Italy's favorite game, their team was also a consistent winner. By 1907, Lazio remained undefeated in Rome and was ready to move up to interregional competition. That year, Lazio traveled to Pisa to play against regional champions Pisa, Livorno, and Lucca. Lazio swept the series, winning all three games in a single day of competition.
By the outbreak of World War I, Lazio had begun to compete on a national level. In the 1912-13 season, the team qualified for Italy's prestigious championship, Lo Scudetta, reaching the final only to lose to Pro Vercelli. The following year, Lazio inaugurated its new playing field at Rondinella, and then reached the finals of the newly formed national championships, this time losing out to the team from Casale. Despite its inability to go all the way to a national championship, the team maintained its dominance of its home Lazio-Rome region and again reached the national championship finals in 1923. Lazio's consistent record of victories gave it a position in the Series A classification (similar to the United States' baseball major league) formed in the late 1920s.
Lazio's heyday came in the 1930s as the team posted a long string of victories. Joining Lazio during this period was forward Silvio Piola, generally considered the best Italian soccer player of all time and one of the greatest soccer players in the world. Piola helped lead the Italian national team to victory during the World Cup of 1938 and set scoring records for Series A play, with 290 goals, including 143 made for Lazio. Yet even the presence of Piola was unable to boost Lazio to the championship title; the team was not to win the championship until the end of the 1950s.
The outbreak of the World War II and Italy's defeat spelled a new period of struggle for SS Lazio. The team lost its playing field at Rondinella, which was converted to vegetable gardens to help feed Rome's hungry population. In 1953, Lazio found a new playing field, the Stadio Olimpico, which remained its home field for more than 40 years.
From Hard Times in the 1950s to Bankruptcy in the 1980s
The move to Rome's Olympic Stadium corresponded to a long period of decline for the club. In the early 1950s, Lazio struggled to remain in the top four of its division; by the end of the decade, it had slipped to the bottom of the rankings. The only bright spot during the period came in 1958, when SS Lazio captured the title at the Coppa Italia--its first championship in more than 50 years of existence.
The Italian Cup victory was not enough to boost the team's spirit. By 1961, Lazio had slumped so low it was dropped from Series A play and relegated to the Series B. Lazio attempted to rally during the decade that followed, regaining Series A status in 1964. Yet the team was once again dropped in 1967. During this time, meanwhile, Italian soccer was undergoing a transformation, as more and more teams were being bought up by Italy's political and business elite. Teams such as Inter Milan, bought by the oil-rich Moratti family, Juventus, of Turin, taken over by Fiat's Agnelli family, AC Milan, owned by the right wing's Silvio Berlusconi, and Naples, which found new owners within the Lauros' shipbuilding empire, now had the capital to acquire stronger teams.
Lazio's own position remained shaky throughout the 1970s and 1980s, as the team was once again relegated to Series B play in 1971. In the mid-1970s, however, Lazio seemed to have found a new momentum, as its field, led by former Swansea star Giorgio Chinaglia, not only climbed back into the Series A division, but, with Chinaglia leading league scoring, went on to capture the second place spot in the Scudetto. That record gave Lazio access to the European Cup championships. Yet the team's defeat in the early rounds sparked supporter riots, winning Lazio a one-year ban on European Cup play.
At home, the Chinaglia-led team continued to rack up victories, and the following year Lazio won the 1974 Scudetto, giving Lazio the Italian championship for the first time in the team's history. That victory should have qualified Lazio for a position in the European Cup championship, if not for the team's ban. By the middle of the decade, Lazio seemed once again to have run out of steam. In 1976, Lazio lost its star player when Chinaglia left to go to America to join the newly forming North American Soccer League. One year later, another of Lazio's top players, Luciano Re Cecconi, was killed after pretending to hold up a jewelry store as part of a practical joke.
Lazio's fortunes plunged even lower in the early 1980s when a number of its players were implicated in an insider bettor scandal. The team was once again dropped from Series A play. By the end of that decade, however, even Series B play seemed to be too much for the ailing team. Despite a brief rise back to Series A play in 1983, Lazio appeared to be at the end of its long history. By the 1986-87 season, the team, finishing 16th in its division, found itself facing the possibility of being dropped even from Series B. The threat of relegation to the Series C1, beyond humiliating the once-proud team, seemed certain to sink entirely the near-bankrupt club.
New owners Gianmarco Calleri and Renato Bocchi called back Giorgio Chinaglia, who, now named club president, set out to rescue the team. A single goal enabled Lazio to complete the season and avoid a Series C1 demotion. SS Lazio once again began climbing the ranks toward Series A play. In 1989, however, Lazio faced a new setback when, with Italy slated to host the World Cup, the Stado Olimpico was closed for repairs. Lazio found a new temporary playing field at Stado Flaminio.
Becoming a 21st Century Sports Business
Lazio returned to the refurbished Olimpico in 1990. Soon after, the team found a new owner, when it was bought up by Sergio Cragnotti. The head of Cirio, a leading producer of tomato sauces and dairy products, quickly began to pump money into building up the team. Cragnotti's millions helped attract such talent as Thomas Doll, Aron Winter, Alen Boksic, and Giuseppi Signori, whose top-scoring performances helped the team gain a new, more solid position in Series A play. By 1993 the team ranked fifth in the league, climbing to fourth and third positions as well. Lazio was to remain in the top five through to the new century.
During this time, European soccer was undergoing a radical transformation. The growth of satellite television had created a vast new potential market. In the past, television coverage of soccer matches had remained relatively limited in Europe, in part to encourage home attendance, in part because of soccer's traditional image as a blue-collar sport. Yet satellite broadcasters quickly discovered that the audience for soccer matches was huge, while the soccer teams themselves found that soccer was now able to reach a far wider audience. A number of teams, such as England's Manchester United, even developed world renown.
Relaxation of player trading rules, which enabled players to become free agents in the mid-1990s, led to another revolution--that of huge player salaries. Clubs now were forced to compete on an international scale and were expected to pay sums as high as EUR 65 million to secure contracts for top players. Smaller clubs were faced with a scramble for survival. By the end of the century, Lazio was spending more than 60 percent of its revenues on player salaries. At the same time, the owners of many of Europe's soccer clubs, many of whom had paid very little to acquire their teams, now found their investments skyrocketing.
The mid-1990s saw a wave of initial public offerings (IPOs) as soccer teams transformed themselves into full-fledged businesses. The first IPOs were seen in the smaller market countries, such as Denmark and The Netherlands. The United Kingdom soon took the lead, with more than 20 teams going public by the turn of the century. In 1998, Cragnotti joined the trend, selling more than 41 percent of his holding, and SS Lazio became the first Italian team to go public. Cragnotti, who became chairman of the new company, retained more than 50 percent of its shares. That year, the company moved to new headquarters and training facilities in Formello.
Two years later, Lazio celebrated its 100th anniversary in style, capturing the Series A lead for only the second time in its history, winning the Italian Cup, and reaching the quarterfinals of the Champions League. Lazio scored another trophy in the 2000-2001 season, winning the Super Cup. Yet the team slipped into losses later in the season as its hope for a new championship were dashed when the team lost the Series A championship to arch-rivals--and newly public--AC Roma. Team trainer Sven Goran Eriksson resigned his post, replaced by Dino Zoff in January 2001. Zoff was able to help the struggling team gain a place in the Champions League playoffs.
But in mid-2001, Lazio faced new problems. The team had already been humiliated after racist banners displayed by some of its supporters led to a one-day suspension for the team. The loss of its star player, Argentina's Juan Veron to Manchester United in a deal worth more than EUR 45 million, was followed by the loss of another key Lazio player, the Czech Pavel Nedved, who was wooed away by rival Juventus with a contract for more than EUR 40 million. Outraged Lazio fans stormed Cragnotti's villa, dumping garbage on his front lawn.
In response, Cragnotti announced his decision to sell off his share of Lazio and step down as the company's chairman. Lazio's board, however, rejected Cragnotti's resignation and persuaded him to remain, at least through September 2001. Although Cragnotti claimed to be committed to selling his stake in the team, analysts questioned whether he would be able to find buyers for his stake.
In the meantime, Cragnotti and Lazio went back to the trading table in an effort to rebuild its front line. After acquiring players Gaizka Mendieta, Stefano Fiore, and Giuliano Giannichedda, Lazio completed the summer with an agreement to pay £15.25 million to acquire Jaap Stam from Manchester United. The renewed team quickly suffered a setback when it was eliminated in the early rounds of the Champions League. Cragnotti was forced to sack team trainer, Dino Zoff, replacing him with Alberto Zaccheroni, formerly with AC Milan.
Despite its difficulties in 2001, Società Sportiva Lazio entered its second century as a public company eager to capitalize on the steadily growing European sports market. As broadcasting took on a still greater importance in the soccer world--broadcasting revenues accounted for nearly 60 percent of Lazio's own sales--the company looked forward to continued changes in television and viewing habits. The roll-out of digital television was expected to prompt a new revolution, particularly with the availability of pay-per-view matches. Lazio was now able to recruit new season tickets not only for its stadium seating, but from among the vast television viewing audience throughout Europe.
Principal Competitors: Manchester United Plc; Ajax Amsterdam NV; Newcastle United Plc; Paris Saint Germain SA; Aston Villa Plc; Chelsea Village Plc; FC Porto; Tottenham Hotspur plc; AC Roma SpA; F.C. Internazionale Milano SpA; Juventus F.C. S.p.A; Milan A.C., S.p.A.