WELLESLEY, Mass.- Roma are showing that they're trying to become part of soccer's elite not only on the field, but off it as well.
Since being taken over by American businessmen in 2011, including current club President and Boston Celtics shareholder James Pallotta, Roma have taken steps to create a brand name that is recognized worldwide.
This summer has been of particular importance to Roma as they've unveiled a new logo, which according to Pallotta, will help the club generate more worldwide recognition. The new club crest, like the old one, still depicts the Roman wolf feeding the twins Remus and Romulus, as goes the legend of Rome's founding. But it simply states "Roma 1927" instead of the acronym "ASR" as in years past.
"It's not just 'ok we want to change the logo.' It's intellectual property," explained Pallotta during a training session in Wellesley on Friday morning.
"How many teams are in Rome that have ASR? The swim team? The crew team? It's ASR. We don't own that."
"Building the brand, a lot of people don't know what 'AS' is. A lot of people ask me 'hey, how's AC Roma doing?' which kills me more than anything."
On Friday morning, Corner Kicks received 21 emails from representatives of MyRoma, a group of Roma fans unhappy with the the club's new logo. Members of the Italian media reported receiving the same email. MyRoma says that the new crest is confusing because it makes it seem as though the city of Rome was founded in 1927 rather than it's actual founding in 753 BC.
"How many people live in Rome?"
"Something like that? I'll take 21," Pallotta said with a smile.
"No one has any understanding of what AS means at all and at the end of the day, it's a soccer team in Rome. Rome is pretty simple, at all ages."
Roma unveiled a new jersey to go with their new crest earlier this summer, but they'll gain even more traction if they show up on the field. So far, Roma look like they'll be a tough competitor in Italy's Serie A this season. They opened up their preseason tour with a 3-1 win over the MLS All-Starts last Wednesday and will play Toronto FC Aug. 7. Their first real test, however, will come on Aug. 10 when they play Chelsea in Washington DC.
Playing well and winning will certainly be key. If Roma are going to enter the same echelon as Manchester United, Barcelona, and Real Madrid, seasons such as last year's, where they finished in sixth place, will be a no-no. Being a consistent Champions League team will be a major part of how they're perceived worldwide.
In terms of Roma's recognition in the US, the fact that they've played quality soccer during all of their US tours helps. So does the fact that US national team midfielder Michael Bradley gets regular playing time. Bradley played 30 leagye games for Roma last year, scoring one goal and having one of the team's highest completed pass percentages.
"I think it's Bradley," said Pallotta, who grew up in Boston's North End and whose family originates from Rome and Bari. "But it's also electronic arts FIFA. My boys and their friends play the game. They know all the players, they transfer them. Players like Michael help out a lot."
Roma could further develop their relationship with American fans by continuing to travel to the US. Last year, they played a friendly against Liverpool at Fenway Park before touring other cities across the country. They also announced a partnership with Disney and traveled to Orlando's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex last winter for a training camp.
"I don't know that the best way to do it is at the local basis," said Pallotta of establishing a more concrete relationship with MLS. "I enjoyed my team in Kansas City. Kansas City's Park is unbelievable. That's one of the best facility I've seen with 20,000 people in the country."
"I spoke to [Commissioner Garber] about that while I was out there, that we'd want to have a relationship with the entire league. What'll come out of it, I don't know, but I'm sure they would like to do something too, especially after the All-Star game the other day."
Pallotta appeared to enjoy himself during the training session. He spoke to Corner Kicks while watching the Roma players during a practice scrimmage. After the interview, he tried converting penalty kicks against Italian national team goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis, freshly signed from Napoli.
Players watched from the benches as their club President tried to put one into the net. When one shot finally went in, the players jokingly taunted De Sanctis and congratulated Pallotta.
Roma officials and the Italian Press seemed exuberant at Pallotta's presence. He's not with the club in Rome full-time since he's based in Boston. But he travels to Rome regularly as he attempts to helps manage the club and spread its brand name.
Time will tell if others follow Pallotta and Roma's lead. But so far, they're off to a good start.
If you want to reach Julian, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @juliancardillo
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