Monitor Deloitte advising plan to make Inter Milan fan-owned club

14 January 2022 Consultancy.eu 4 min. read

The bid to change the ownership model of Italian champions Inter Milan has entered a new phase, with Monitor Deloitte now on board as a strategic advisor. Economist Carlo Cottarelli launched Interspac, a platform to enable fan ownership of the club, when news of its financial crisis emerged in the summer.

The 2020/21 season should have ended in elation for fans of Internazionale. Having pushed reigning champions Juventus hard the year before, Antonio Conte’s team finally succeeded in claiming its first Serie A title in a decade. The joy was short-lived for I Nerazzurri, however, as the club’s financial position soon became the dominant discourse surrounding the San Siro.

Despite their on-pitch heroics, behind the scenes, the club had recorded a net loss of €245.6 million in 2020/21. The figure was the highest ever recorded by an Italian football club, according to research by KPMG.

Monitor Deloitte advising plan to make Inter Milan fan-owned club

Matchday revenue losses thanks to the pandemic, growing operating costs, and low income on player trading activities had already seen the club scale back on its investments in the second half of the season – with Conte told to make do with what he had on the pitch. It soon became clear why, though, as unlike the other champions of Europe’s top leagues – who also largely faced losses – Inter’s ownership were not in a position to absorb the shortfall.

Suning Holdings Group, a company owned by Zhang Jindong, co-founder and chairman of Suning Commerce Group, has held a 68% majority stake in Inter since 2016. While the club initially embarked on a spending spree under the majority ownership, the coronavirus pandemic saw this place the club under major strain. The Zhang family were named as judgment debtors over bank loans of more than $1.75 billion owned by Suning.com.

That debt was subject to enforcement in China, however Suning Group saved Suning.com by restructuring via a sale of 24% of its shares to Chinese tech giant Alibaba. Later, though, Stephen Zhang, who became President of Inter Milan following the Suning purchase of the football club, added to fears for the club’s future, when it was reported that he was being chased for $250 million in unpaid loans in a Hong Kong court.

Carlo Cottarelli

Amid the concern at the mounting debt facing Inter’s owners – and a fire-sale to help balance the books which included the departure of striker Romelu Lukaku – economist Carlo Cottarelli decided the time was right to launch a new initiative that could help safeguard the club’s future.

Meanwhile, Inter Milan’s own debts amount to €375 million, and the club took out a loan of €275 million in 2021 with an American asset management company for short-term cash flow needs. In this context, Cottarelli (the former director of the International Monetary Fund) officially launched the Interspac.

The group launched with a goal to acquire between 30-40% of Inter’s shares, and would make fans who purchase shares through the platform part-owners of the football club – letting them have a say in important matters such as a new stadium. The organisation aims to raise about €300 million to make the purchase.

Reportedly according to Italian media, Suning was aware of the situation and had given it the green light, signalling the group did not intend to stand in InterSpac’s way.

‘Here to help’

Speaking at Interspac’s launch event, Cottarelli stated that the organisation was not aimed at forcing Suning out of the club. Rather, Interspac “want to strengthen Inter with capitals integrated by institutional investor resources.” He added that the group wanted to “thank the owners, who with their work brought Inter back to winning the championship and who have built a competitive team again this year.”

He also noted that fan-ownership was a practical model that was thriving elsewhere in the world. In particular, he pointed to Germany, where the 50+1 regulation means that practically every professional club has an ownership structure in which fans have the majority share – helping to keep ticket prices at an affordable rate, among other matters, while also ensuring sensible financial planning

As a result of this strategy, top German teams were among the financial outperformers during Covid-19-stricken football, according to analysis by Deloitte. “It already happens in other glorious clubs such as Bayern Munich,” Cottarelli noted.

Supporting’s Cottarelli’s planning and business case is Monitor Deloitte, the strategy consulting practice of professional services giant Deloitte (which has a strong track record in the football arena). The consulting firm is helping Interspac with crunching the number of financials and ownership models, and preparing a roadmap for making the plan a reality.

If the project materialises, InterSpac aims to become a reference shareholder of the football club, alongside the Chinese electronic products distribution company Suning. InterSpac could, for example, replace the Chinese private equity fund LionRock, which acquired a 31.05% stake in 2019.