Thohir: “We export Italian passion for football”

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LONDON – The Inter president took part in a round-table discussion on globalisation in sport as part of the Leaders Sport Business Summit held at Stamford Bridge today.

The session lasted around an hour, and saw participation not only from Nerazzurri owner Erick Thohir, but also from AS Roma president James Pallotta, Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils owner Joshua Harris and Santos Laguna president Alejandro Irarragorri.

Thohir touched on a wide range of topics, such as his decision to buy Inter and the challenges posed by that, the organisation of the club and his passion for Italy and football.

The Nerazzurri president also spoke about his business philosophy, the importance of the media, the particularities of Italian football in contrast to the rest of the world and even issues such as brand expansion and stadium development.

The Inter president was first asked about how he manages to run Inter whilst living in Jakarta. Thohir, whose main business is based in the Indonesian capital and who also owns the MLS team DC United, explained: “In order to run a company well you have to be close to it and I try to be as close as possible to Inter. At the same time, it’s important to have a management team that can handle the day-to-day running of the club and I have an excellent team that is doing that very well.”

“To run a club like Inter you need passion for football and business – along with great ability – and my managers and I certainly have that,” added Thohir.

“If you’re thinking about brand expansion, you can’t overlook Asia right now,” said Thohir on the topic of how to spread brands across the globe. “We’re doing just that – we’ve got big plans, not just for Italy but for the United States and for Asia too. We’re launching all types of initiatives; some of these are already up and running – such as our Academies – and we are now rolling them out to other countries.”

“We use the culture of Italy and the passion that Italians have for football to try and make ourselves as well-known as possible on the global scale, further developing our presence on social networks. Inter have hoards of fans across the world – nearly 90 million – but there are 260 million potential fans that we could reach. We need to engage with and take care of our fans; they must be made to feel a part of our Nerazzurri family. We’ve got big plans,” said Thohir.

Of course, the 2016 Champions League final will take place in Milan at the San Siro, the stadium that Inter and AC Milan share. “Obviously, there’s a difference between owning your own stadium and sharing one with another club. For this reason we are having constructive discussions with AC Milan. It’s only normal to try and understand the plans of each party, because it’s also understandable that a club gets to a point where it needs its own stadium – that is completely normal both for us and them,” explained the Inter president.

“However, a stadium must be used throughout the year – not just for matches. It’s the fans’ home and we are working hard in order to understand how we can facilitate that day-to-day participation. It’s important for the club itself but also for Serie A in general,” said Thohir.

Lastly, the Nerazzurri owner underlined the differences between the European and American markets: “There are differences between the US model and the European one – in the USA there are no relegations but there are both large and small markets, so the clubs have to understand where they can compete. In Europe, on the other hand, there are big clubs and medium-sized clubs.”