Juventus again IBWM? But all is well at Juve this year....isn't it?
At first glance things could not be going better for Serie A side Juventus this season. The Turin giants are undefeated thus far - the only team among Europe's top five leagues to remain so - with nine wins and six draws that already include morale-boosting triumphs over Milan, Inter and Lazio. That Antonio Conte has so quickly reversed the fortunes of a club that had begun to slide backwards over the last few years is of huge credit to a coach who previously had just fourteen games of experience in Italian football's top division.
The 42 year old, captain of the side during Marcello Lippi's first trophy-laden spell at the club in the 1990's, has blended an impressive unit from a group that has been put together at a substantial outlay. It is built largely on an almost perfectly balanced midfield of Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and World Cup winner Andrea Pirlo but an equally important factor in their early success has been the brand new Juventus Stadium, inaugurated on September 8 in a nostalgia-filled tie with the club responsible for those famous black and white stripes, English League One side Notts County.
With the fans much closer to the pitch than at the stadium's predecessor, the widely despised Stadio delle Alpi, Juventus have embraced their fine new surroundings, winning six and drawing twice in their opening eight home league fixtures as well as winning their one Coppa Italia fixture there so far. Yet, as they prepared for their latest home game before the Winter Break - a Piedmontese derby against newly promoted Novara - there was one issue which is starting to become a real concern among supporters of the club.
The official website gleefully announced on the Monday prior to that fixture (December 12) that the game, played on Sunday, was already sold out. The statement went on to say that their "new home continues to be a roaring success, having registered sell-out crowds for every match so far,". All of which gives the impression that things are going as well off the field as they are on it, and yet a closer examination of the attendance figures shows that simply is not the case.
Since a capacity crowd of 41,000 attended that wonderfully poignant opening night in September, the same maximum capacity figure has yet to be repeated and indeed this weekend saw 39,836 attend that latest 'sell-out' game. The seemingly small size of the new stadium was largely dictated by fans at the old ground where, during the sixteen seasons they called the delle Alpi home (1990-2006), Juventus managed an average attendance of 41,229. A Coppa Italia tie against Sampdoria in December 2001 was undoubtedly the low point of that stadium's history, attended as it was by a mere 237 spectators. Those figures, in an arena capable of holding 67,229 people was a source of much embarrassment, a feeling which only grew as the numbers fell and, during the last five seasons the club spent there, the average was as low as 33,447
Yet despite those constant announcements of sell-outs this term, things are hardly any better since moving into the Juventus Stadium. Over those first eight games Turin's Old Lady has averaged just 36,819, some 4181 less spectators than it's maximum. Thanks to the design of the stands none of this is due to segregation as there are sufficient safeguards are in place to ensure those measures do not need to be taken.
It would be very easy to look at the economic struggles in Italy - and indeed across the Euro-Zone as a whole - and decide that the problem stemmed from that but the club's announcements of sell out's negate that fear. The truth, sadly, lies with third party purchases as companies and individuals look to profit from the renewed interest in Juventus. Tickets have been bought by these businesses, often travel companies and brokers outside Italy, who will in turn look to sell them on at an increased price - usually as part of a package trip - yet here demand has failed to reach the expected levels, leaving tickets unused despite already being sold once by the club.
This has echoes of the naming rights problem for Sportfive, the company which paid €75 million to purchase those rights for the next twelve years. Here the economic downturn is to blame and the broker failed to find a suitable buyer in time for the start of this season and so the ground opened un-branded, much to their disappointment. They will obviously look to sell on at a later date, but for them it is already a huge opportunity missed.
It is a situation which has improved slightly over the last four matches, with under 3,000 empty seats for the first time a month ago but it is still far from ideal. Another bonus for Juventus is that many of these tickets are in the Tribuna Ovest (West Stand) which is where the television camera's are mounted, meaning the majority of vacant seats are never shown, an exact reversal of the problem faced by Wembley Stadium where footage reveals large absences on a regular basis.
However, in both instances Juventus have not missed out financially, recouping maximum income from both the tickets and naming rights. But while fans are happy to use the 'Juventus Stadium' moniker - and undoubtedly will now do so even after it is renamed with a corporate logo - they are far less enamoured with the number of empty seats in the stands.
Simple economics will hopefully see those third party brokers still buying tickets in this manner reducing the numbers they are purchasing in advance as they realise the demand simply is not there, allowing genuine supporters to get in to see Antonio Conte's team continue their great start. It is yet another instance of greed blighting football and one which should not be allowed to continue.
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