My name is Rocco
The new owner of Fiorentina talks about his passion for football, sparked in Calabria and fostered in the Bronx
The first evening he arrived in Florence, Fiorentina fans welcomed him with a serenade under the windows of the Hotel Savoy. Rocco Commisso, 69 years old, is the new owner of Fiorentina and one of the richest football club owners in the world. Born in Marina di Gioiosa Ionica, in Calabria, in 1962, he immigrated to Pennsylvania at 12 years old with his mother and sisters to join their father, who was working as a carpenter, and older brother. After a year, the entire family moved to the Bronx, in New York.
Though he didn’t know a word of English when he arrived in the United States, he earned a scholarship to study at Columbia University, where he got his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. He is still deeply tied to the school, and in 2013, the university named their football stadium after him. Following Columbia, he began his rapid rise through the ranks of Finance. He worked at JP Morgan and the Royal Bank of Canada before launching his own business. He founded Mediacom from nothing in 1995, today one of the largest telecommunications companies, headquartered in New York. Commisso is a genuine, direct man. He is truly self-made. Still today, he maintains his spirit of a Calabria native raised in the Bronx.
When did you first fall in love with football? Which player made inspired your passion for the sport?
I played around with a ball when I lived in Calabria; it was the only sport possible. I was seven or eight years old. In the winter, the kids in my town would play in front of the train station, and in the summer, we would move to the beach. At the time, I was a Juventus fan. This was the era of Sivori, Charles, Boniperti and Nicolai. My interest began with them, the best players.
What was it like when you moved to the United States?
When I arrived in Pennsylvania from Calabria, it was the first year of my life that I only studied. That year, I played three sports: baseball, football and basketball. I liked football the most. I then began working and didn’t play any sports seriously until I got to university.
Did you work and study at the same time?
Yes, to pay my tuition fees. From 14 to 17 years old, I worked 40 hours a week with my older brother, who managed a diner. Then I worked in the pizzeria that he later opened on 238th street. It was called Pizza Time. It was the first in the Bronx to do delivery. My only hobby was football. I liked it and I was good at it. It helped me keep going with my studies.
When did you begin Columbia University?
I was 17 years old.
What position did you play at Columbia?
I was defense, number 5. But I also played offense my last year, and I scored a lot of goals, even if the Americans were taller and brawnier.
What were the best years of your time at university?
My undergraduate years, when I played a lot of football and when I met all the friends I still have today.
What is the most important value that has guided you in your career?
Dedication to work…and being loyal. Loyalty. These values dictate the rules at my company. I like to think that if you take care of me, I’ll take care of you. I would like to bring this philosophy to Fiorentina.
Do you think you will have to dedicate a lot of time to Fiorentina?
At the beginning, I didn’t think so, but now it’s taking up 98% of my time. I just started. Everything is new to me, this is Italy, the culture is different… I had to sign more legal papers in this business deal here in Italy than I’ve had to sign in my entire life! But that’s the Italian system.
What was the first thing you did when you arrived in Florence?
Thirty years ago, I gave my wife a ring that I had bought from a jewelry shop on the Ponte Vecchio. She lost it later on. The first thing I did when we came back to Florence was tell her that I wanted to get her a gift, so we went to buy another version of the ring she lost.
What do you think of this city?
Florence is truly an international capital. It’s known all over the world as the city that best represents Italian culture.
A dream for Florence and Fiorentina?
I won’t promise anything. I dream of investing in Italy. The investments I want to do are smart, and I don’t need a bank. Let’s see what happens. We will try to resolve the issues with the infrastructure. I’m 69 years old, I don’t expect to live another 10 years, so I want to do everything quickly.