When it rains, it pours. If they were superstitious – and some may be, who knows? — Juventus officials will await their Terrible September (“Terrible September”) comes to an end. Not that it was great before, but this month the negativity started to spiral.
On the pitch in Serie A and the UEFA Champions League, the club has played five games, drawing twice and losing three others. They sit eighth in Serie A and are stuck with a clean sheet in Europe in a group that includes Paris Saint-Germain, Benfica and Maccabi Haifa. Hailed as the coach of players with common sense as he won four titles in a row and led them to two Champions League finals, Massimiliano Allegri is about as popular as a pair of Crocs at Milan Fashion Week.
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On Friday, they announced a record loss of 254 million euros ($245 million) for 2021-2022, taking the total for the past three seasons well over the half-billion mark. Season ticket sales are down 27% year on year and large areas of empty seats are visible at games, prompting some fans to use the hashtag #StadiumVuoto (or “#EmptyStadium”) to express their dissatisfaction with the club and, most notably, Allegri.
Juventus’ troubles this season are well known. This is due to a combination of injuries to key players (or players that Allegri believes should be key), poor planning, and even worse management decisions. They are exaggerated and further pissed off by Allegri’s manner, which all too often comes across as glib and dismissive, if not downright denial.
But as badly as Juventus have played, the reality is that fourth place is only four points away and they still control their Champions League destiny.
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Heavy losses are also worrisome, but they are not unexpected either. This is partly due to the coronavirus pandemic, partly due to poor personnel decisions, and partly due to failed adventures. The owner has invested around €700m into the club over the last few years to smooth things over and with the wage bill shrinking, that should decrease.
The attendance figures are perhaps most interesting in that they are a mystery to a club like Juventus.
Let’s start with the fact that the official figures are not scary. Yes, they’ve only sold one game this season, but the average attendance is 37,634 per game, which isn’t all that terrible for a stadium that seats around 40,000 people. The problem is that this number includes season pass holders – just over 20,000 – and they count whether they’re there or not. That’s how you get empty seats, like Juventus did when they hosted Salernitana on September 11th.
Moreover, a very public dispute between Juventus and a number of ardent fans – club officials testified against the leaders of some ultras the groups they accused of trying to extort tickets and services resulted in some of their most vocal supporters either not showing up or supporting them when they showed up, further hurting the atmosphere.
At times, perception can be as important as reality, and that’s not what the club needs right now given the events on the pitch and the balance.
The odd thing is that this is exactly the situation that many thought Juventus were not immune to when they built the 41,000-seat Juventus Stadium to replace the massive 69,000-seat Delle Alpi. They figured that the smaller, more compact, modern stadium would be almost guaranteed to sell out every week. For many years, after they moved there in 2011, that’s exactly what happened.
It just made sense. Juventus are the best-supported club in Italy by some distance – they are No. 1 in 13 of the country’s 20 regions – and they pride themselves on being a national powerhouse, not a local powerhouse. Romi Guy, a former commercial director at Juve, once told me that the founders unwittingly made a brilliant marketing decision by naming the club Juventus, avoiding mentioning their hometown of Turin because it made it more hospitable to people from other regions. country or even the world.
(Guy went so far as to say that there are die-hard Juventus fans who don’t even know they’re from Turin. I suspect he was fooling around, but who knows?)
One of the side effects of a national rather than local fanbase is that many fans have to travel long distances to home games. And when the team isn’t winning or playing well and is surrounded by a cloud of negativity, like what followed Peanuts Pig Foam, maybe you just sit at home and watch them on TV – even if you’re already drowning. subscription cost.
In this they were unwittingly helped by the slogan coined by former President Giampiero Boniperti, who, paraphrasing the legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi, said: “Winning is not important, it’s the only thing that matters.” So much so that one season they embroidered it on their T-shirts.
The problem is that this kind of messaging works great when you’re successful – like Juve did when they won nine straight Serie A titles from 2011 to 2020 – but not when you’re struggling. Some fans raised on the mantra who have experienced years of success are less likely to say, “Hey! We stink now, but right now they need me the most, so I go to the game to sing with all my heart.” When winning – and not things like rebuilding, weathering the storm, or giving the youth a chance – is the only thing that matters… well, if you don’t win, why bother?
Obviously Juve’s biggest problem is playing on the pitch. At some point things will either get better (and the sellouts will come back) or it won’t and Allegri will be fired and they will start with someone new. To some extent, traffic — and especially positive engagement that goes beyond posting #AllegriOut hashtags — and performance will always be linked. This is the holy grail of any team in any sport: to reduce this correlation (ticket prices and conditions obviously help) by ensuring that people come to watch their team play, not just their team win.
For a while it looked like Juventus had cracked that formula. Now it’s not so clear.
Hey, at least September is almost over. Will October bring better times or more of the same?