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ATW Editor's Blog

Bankrupt Alitalia dreams of the premier league

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As if the saga of Alitalia couldn’t get, well, more Italian, news arrives that yet another potential investor has emerged—the chairman of a Rome soccer club.

Claudio Lotito, chairman and owner of Società Sportiva Lazio has that most-desired asset of any Alitalia would-be investor—money to burn. He also has an Italian trademark—a business scandal in his past. He was banned from soccer for two-and-a-half years for his involvement in an Italian professional soccer league scandal in 2006 in which team managers and referee organizations colluded to ensure favorable referee selections.

But why not throw a soccer crook into the Alitalia game? It may not fit the stated aim of the Italian government for Alitalia’s new owners to turn the airline into a “multimode transport” organization—unless you count transporting soccer players high on each other shoulders after each goal. But good soccer managers do know a thing or two about team building.

You could argue that team building is more necessary to Alitalia’s survival than cash—which, no matter how many millions are poured into the carrier, disappears into the bottomless pool of bankruptcy. Alitalia’s latest bankruptcy filing occurred more than two years ago, yet the airline has struggled on, thanks to a $1 billion government bridge loan (no word on subsidies from SkyTeam mate Delta Air Lines on this one) and that loan comes due at the end of June.  Like everything else in Alitalia’s history, the airline and the Italian government will likely find some way to postpone that payment, as they have continuously postponed the deadline for having an investor submit a formal bid and rescue plan.

But with premier league money, Alitalia's opportunities to introduce soccer themes into its brand and service are intriguing. Flight crews and gate agents could wear numbered shirts and shorts emblazoned with the team’s sponsor. Emirates, Etihad and Qatar are among the most-often seen soccer sponsorships, so that might not work out too well. But small nets could be placed at each gate so passengers can play a bit of five-aside as they wait to board (a great antidote to air rage and hyper kids). White Stripes’ Seven Army Nation could be played very loudly at boarding. Fresh orange quarters might be served onboard instead of sodas. And plenty of beer.

Club Alitalia could be quite the winner. If it didn’t keep scoring home goals.

Karen Walker karen.walker@informa.com

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