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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

U.S. Investor Takes Over Inter Milan: What’s Next for the Serie A Champs?

  • A Chinese holding company that owned the Serie A club defaulted on a $428 million loan.
  • Italian pro soccer continues to lag economically well behind its British, Spanish, and German counterparts.
Inter Milan

The often-chaotic state of Italian pro soccer has taken another hit as Inter Milan, this season’s Serie A champion, has been taken over by U.S.-based investment fund Oaktree Capital Management. 

Oaktree became the new owner after the club’s Chinese holding company, Suning, missed a $428 million loan payment deadline Tuesday, in turn defaulting on the loan. Suning, which acquired a majority interest in Inter Milan in 2016, received the emergency bridge loan from Oaktree five years later to help manage club finances during the COVID-19 pandemic, when critical gate revenues were not arriving due to closed stadiums. 

More recently, Suning had been attempting to refinance its debt, including a potential sale of the club, but was unable to do so. As a result, even one of the most famous brands in European soccer is now the subject of a creditor takeover.

“We are committed to the long-term success of the Nerazzurri and believe our ambitions for the club are united with those of its passionate fans in Italy and around the world,” said Alejandro Cano, managing director and co-head of Europe for Oaktree’s global opportunities strategy. “Our initial focus is operational and financial stability.”

Inter Milan president Steven Zhang, a key figure within Suning, pushed back on Oaktree’s actions, saying “such behavior now poses potential risks to the club that could seriously jeopardize its stability.”

Bigger Financial Issues

Six additional Serie A clubs have U.S. ownership: AC Milan, Atalanta, Fiorentina, Roma, Genoa, and the newly promoted Parma. But Serie A continues to lag well behind not only the Premier League in total revenue but also Spain’s LaLiga and Germany’s Bundesliga. 

And despite a still-growing investment in Italian soccer by American entities, Serie A in 2022 also posted its worst collective financial loss in 15 years. Many owners of Italian clubs—including Inter Milan—have also sought to elevate their fiscal situations through enhanced facilities, only to find resistance in numerous areas, particularly regulatory and political ones.

“There’s a big gap between Serie A and the other leagues,” said former AC Milan star Zlatan Ibrahimović earlier this year at a Financial Times conference. “It’s all about the budget, the economics. Italy needs something more; they need something new.”

Inter Milan will conclude the 2023–24 Serie A season Sunday, but clinched its 20th league title last month.

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