On Friday, Kyle Krause acquired a controlling share of Serie A side Parma, which means four of the league's 20 clubs now have U.S.-based owners -- the others are Fiorentina (Rocco Commisso), Roma (Dan Friedkin) and Milan (Paul Singer, via the Elliott fund). Bologna (Joey Saputo) and Inter (Zhang Jindong) also have overseas owners. Only the Premier League, where 14 of 20 clubs are under foreign control, has more overseas investors among Europe's major leagues.
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At the same time, the league itself is looking to sell 10 percent of its commercial and broadcast business to foreign private equity groups (CVC and Bain Capital are leading rival bids).
Many are hoping these changes will help Serie A increase revenue, market itself better and help close the gap with Europe's other leading domestic competitions. Krause spoke to ESPN about taking over the club, what it means and his Italian-American roots despite a Teutonic last name.
Q: How does it feel owning a Serie A club?
A: It's a dream come true. I'm an Italian-American... I love the game of soccer, calcio, football... you name it.
Q: Krause isn't very Italian-sounding... I'm assuming it's on your mom's side?
A: It's funny; when I was dating my wife, she asked me the very same question... I told her well, at least it ends in a vowel! It's my mother's family -- my great-grandmother and great-grandfather emigrated from Palermo, Sicily -- but so much of my life has had an Italian bent to i I got engaged to my wife in Italy, I got married to my wife in Italy... it's the heritage that I've gravitated towards.
Q: What's your background as an owner of a pro sports team?
A: For the past 25 years I've owned the Des Moines Menace -- that's a fourth-tier team here in the United States. [Editor's Note: the Menace compete in the USL League Two.] And a year ago today we kicked off a project to try to bring a USL Championship franchise and build a stadium in downtown Des Moines.
Q: Was it the case that you were looking to buy a team and you stumbled upon Parma, or was your heart set on it from the beginning?
A: It just started with a bit of investigation into Italian soccer in general -- the teams, the ownership... all just trying to get a bit smarter in the process. And as I was networking, we encountered a few teams that may or may have been for sale and one of them was Parma. Our partners [the local group that maintains a minority stake in the club] had taken it from in its unfortunate position in Serie D [following bankruptcy] all the way to Serie A with three straight promotions.
They were ready to do something, I was looking and it was a great fit. It's a fantastic city and a great opportunity.
Q: There's now a whole group of North American owners in Serie A. Did you speak to them or look at their experiences? There are often cultural differences and sometimes, what works elsewhere doesn't work in Italy...
A: I talked to Joey Saputo and Rocco Commisso. Both were very helpful and helped educate me. I have a long way to go and they shared what they thought, both of Serie A and of Parma. And I think talking to our partners, and our guys on the ground at Parma Calcio, will make me smarter too. I'm certainly not going to come in from Iowa with a script and say "Look! I have all the answers!" It's about what needs to happen, what the opportunities are and how can I help.
Q: Parma changed managers recently with Roberto D'Aversa being replaced by Fabio Liverani. Were you a party to that decision? And have you met Liverani?
A: No, I wasn't involved in the change and I have not met Liverani yet, but I'll meet him today. That decision was made prior to our involvement, but I fully support their decision.
Q: Parma is a remarkable city, known for tremendous food -- if you don't know Parma ham and Parmesan cheese, you're missing out -- but historically, they were more known for other sports, like baseball, rugby and volleyball, right up to the golden years of the soccer team in the 1990s. Do you get a sense it's now a football town?
A: I need to get smarter and learn more about the fan base and what the fans want. Today will be the first day that I'm talking to them. It's about what can I learn from them over the next month, but we have a great fan base, great attendances, even down in Serie Dl and the fans have stuck with them throughout their journey.
Q: Serie A approved the sale of 10 percent of the commercial and broadcast rights to a private equity firm for somewhere in the region of $1.5 billion to $2 billion. In general, there's a sense that the league hasn't been great at marketing itself and exploiting the full value of its rights. What do you make of the private equity firms getting involved? Is there an upside?
A: I think certainly what you see from a marketing standpoint, there's an opportunity there. Those dollars coming in -- and you can see it around the world, look at Formula One -- there's a chance to shape what the media looks like. It's going to take time, you're talking about building new media and new marketing platforms around the world, but there's certainly an upside. And I think the league was smart to make that decision there.
I think what you're also seeing is quite a few owners being smart and making investments in stadiums. Juventus have obviously led the way here, but if you look around the league you see investments going on with Milan and Inter, with Bologna, with Atalanta, with Roma, with Cagliari... this leads to better fan engagement and it's an area where Serie A has lagged behind.
Q: The problem is that it's not easy to build things in Italy. There's a diabolical bureaucracy and red tape. Commisso is trying in Florence, Roma tried for years, it's not for lack of capital or time... have you factored this into your investment? What's your view on Parma's stadium, the Tardini?
A: There are complications in construction. Our businesses have done construction in Italy -- not stadiums, but we have a sense of the process. But the government recently changed some laws, reducing the steps and hurdles in the process. As for our stadium, our partners have already started the process with the city to do something with the Tardini. We're going to step in and go along with it -- undoubtedly, a significant renovation is what we hope for. I think it's necessary, and I don't think the stadium experience is what it should be in 2020.
Q: In Italy we're obsessed with the figure of the club president, who is usually the owner. These guys are very visible, they talk all the time, they're always there. And some foreign owners have struggled with this. I'm thinking again of Roma and Milan and Inter; when these teams struggle, fans blames the owner for not being around. I assume you're not moving to Parma any time soon, is this something you're concerned about?
A: Well, we have a home in Italy, two hours away from Parma, depending how fast you drive. We have other business in Italy, I'm there on a regular basis. I will be a supportive fan, I will go to many, but not all the games. I won't be the day-to-day face of the team, that's the good news -- they'll have somebody much better looking than me to do that -- and I'll let our leadership team run the team.
I have a passion, it's not a pure investment for me. And I have a son who is going to Parma, and will be involved on the players' side in a corporate role.
Q: I'm going to test your calcio credentials. What was the last game you went to?
A: The last game was in November, I saw Juventus vs. Milan... not Cristiano Ronaldo's favorite game [he was substituted and left the stadium early]. I like the Juventus stadium, I think they did a great job; I first went there right after it opened. But even then, it's now more than 10 years old, you can look at the experience and you can find opportunities to improve things even more for the fans.
Q: The European Club Association projects some $4.5 billion in lost revenue over two years for European clubs as a result of the pandemic. Is it a case that you were able to take an opportunity that might not have been there if not for the pandemic?
A: I can't speak for other teams that are potentially for sale, but from Parma Calcio's standpoint, I don't think it's driven by the pandemic. The other partners became involved five years and their goal was to save Parma, get it back to Serie A and then hand it off to someone who can take it forward. I can't speak for other clubs, but in this case, it wasn't driven by the pandemic.
Q: Finally, I have to ask this given your Sicilian roots. Palermo is a big city with a storied club with long-suffering fans [they went bankrupt in 2019 and were reformed in amateur football]. Did your Sicilian relatives try to pressure you into rescuing Palermo instead?
A: Haha! I'll say this, I've been a fan of Palermo for a long, long time, and certainly, over the past few years my curiosity was piqued. But the opportunity in Parma was more attractive for me. I remain a Palermo fan and, yes, I've had the passing thought, but I never actively pursued anything there.