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Rocco Commisso: How a Billionaire Businessman Runs a Soccer Club

A billionaire cable TV empire owner didn’t own a yacht, private jet and beachside mansion, instead he spent $170 million to buy an Italian pro soccer team.

Rocco Commisso, 73, bought ACF Fiorentina in Florence three years ago. His wife told him that if he insisted on buying a team, it needed to be in a nice place. The price tag was a bargain for a European club.

The American owner has been under relentless scrutiny by Fiorentina fans who demand he do whatever it takes to bring in the stars and end their 50-year championship drought. Fiorentina, nicknamed “La Viola” – “The Purple” – has not won a league championship since 1969. The fans, known as tifosi, got sick of waiting and ran the previous owner out of town.

“But they can’t kick Rocco out of here, you know? They think, they’re going to criticize me and kick me out. They’re, no, it can’t be,” Commisso told 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi. “Rocco is a little different.”


Rocco Commisso and Sharyn Alfonsi in the Bronx

60 minutes

This distinction he learned the hard way on the streets of the Bronx. Comiso grew up in southern Italy, but his family moved to the United States to escape poverty. His father and brother crossed the Atlantic first, followed by 12-year-old Commisso, his mother, and his two sisters.

Commisso, who has a net worth of $8 billion, doesn’t think he would have achieved the same level of success if he had stayed in Italy.

“No way. This really is the land of opportunity. It gave this poor soul, well, yeah, a chance to be something, somebody,” he said. “And that’s the beauty of America.”

His American dream began with a contract to play the accordion. Then 13, Commissar’s English was terrible, but he played an average accordion. He agreed to perform for free in a Bronx theater if the manager would help him get into Mount St. Michael’s Academy, a Catholic all-boys school. The manager sent a letter of recommendation and Commisso was admitted to the school.

“I was lucky or rushed, whatever you want to say,” he said.

Comiso continued to laugh. He worked on his family’s lunch every day before and after school to pay his high school tuition.

“So I was paid $1 an hour, and with that $1 an hour, I paid for four years of Mount St. Michael School,” he said.

Commisso wanted to be an engineer, but a dollar an hour wasn’t going to cover college tuition, so Commisso looked for a scholarship. He hadn’t played much soccer since coming to the United States, but he always loved the game, so he turned to it when he needed a scholarship.

Commisso asked his gym teacher to call an NYU coach, who then put Commisso on a team and watched him play for six days.

“He said, ‘Yeah, I like the kid. So let’s … let me help him get to NYU,’ which he did. And they gave me a 50% scholarship, but it wasn’t enough,” Commisso said. “So I told the gym teacher, ‘Go and call the Columbia coach right now.’ Within three to four weeks they offered me admission to Columbia and a full scholarship.”

Commisso became team captain and led Columbia University to its first NCAA Tournament appearance.

After graduating and earning an MBA, Commisso moved on to Wall Street. At night, he helps his brother run a disco, where Comiso chooses to play Italian pop music.

“I was really into Italian music and, and came up with the idea that by specializing in something as opposed to being like somebody else, you know, we could do well,” he said. “And nobody could touch us in terms of competition because nobody had it.”

Commisso took that same mindset to the cable TV industry where he became an executive as the business exploded. In 1995, he decided to start his own company called Mediacom.

“What I saw was that sooner or later, we’re going to be deregulated, and there’s a great opportunity to do well in small markets in the U.S., rural markets, basically because nobody wanted them,” he said.


Rocco Commissiono at the Mediacom office

60 minutes

Commisso risked his life savings to buy the small system. Again, time and luck were on his side. Today, Mediacom provides broadband in 22 states. He works alongside his wife, sister and son. Despite the size of the business, Commisso said owning a football team is more difficult.

“I get more criticism here than in 1,500 communities in the United States,” Commisso said.

There have been tensions and, at times, Commisso has lost it with an unforgiving press, but the Bronx billionaire has never questioned buying the team.

“I have made a decision. I will stick to the decision,” he said.


Fiorentina fans, also known as tifosi

60 minutes

True to his ways, Comiso is playing the long game. He’s spending $100 million on Viola Park. Once completed, it will be one of Europe’s largest football facilities for developing young players.

Back in the United States, he gave millions to his alma maters and contributed to scholarships for nearly 3,000 students across the United States, including many first-generation immigrants like him.

Despite the costs, Agita and ACF Fiorentina so many seasons, Comiso still seems to love the business. He became one of Italy’s most famous Americans, but Comiso preferred to be known as “Just Rocco.”

“I just want to be known as the guy who, nothing, success, has ever changed him,” he said.

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