Fashion, tourism and Tessmann: a US plan to make Venezia a global brand
NEven Venezia certainly knew what they were getting when they signed Tanner Tessmann from FC Dallas in 2021. The club’s then general manager, Alexander Menta, described the midfielder during a interview with Grant Wahl as “my big bet”. He liked Tessman’s size, athleticism and work ethic, but those traits alone don’t make him a top football player. “Was it like a normal purchase, where the light was green across the board? No,’ Menta said. “And I told him the same thing.”
Tessmann had made his debut for the US men’s senior team a few months earlier, but would not represent them again until September. The two and a half years in between have been as tortuous as the canals that cross Venice’s 126 islands. But now it feels like he and his club are making their way to the open waters of the lagoon.
Venezia was not supposed to reach the highest level of Italian football, Serie A, in 2021. They had not played in the top flight for 20 years and were only recovered from bankruptcy in Italy’s fourth tier by a consortium of American investors for six years. for. After climbing two divisions in the shortest amount of time, Venezia had been relegated from Serie B in 2019, but were given a reprieve after the season when another club, Palermo, suffered a financial crisis of their own and moved to Serie C instead.
The club’s president during this period was Joe Tacopina, a New York lawyer who became a serial Italian football investor and was previously part of ownership groups in Roma and Bologna. In 2020 he was bought out by fellow shareholder Duncan Niederauer.
Niederauer, former CEO of the New York Stock Exchange, wanted to take Venezia in a different direction. He and Tacopina shared the belief that the club had the potential to develop a global fan base thanks to its location in a unique city, a place that attracts millions of tourists every year. After all, what could be more romantic than a football team whose stadium – the Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo – is easiest to reach by boat?
Yet they differed in their vision of what that would look like. After completing his takeover, Niederauer hired Menta, a 29-year-old Venezia fan from Pennsylvania who had never worked in soccer before, to head the club’s analytics department.
Menta had cold-called him after reading about the acquisition and had talked himself into an opportunity with his sheer enthusiasm and knowledge of the field. His player recommendations helped transform a team expected to fight relegation into one that instead finished fifth and won promotion to Serie A via the play-offs.
Tessmann and his compatriot Gianluca Busio were signed in the following transfer window. Menta identified them for their potential on the pitch, but these moves were obviously also linked to the club’s efforts to increase their international appeal.
Tacopina had rebranded the club during his time as president, ditching the winged lion on the crest for a more aggressive image. “The old lion says: ‘Welcome to our visitors, to our city; be safe,” Tacopina said at the time. “This lion says, ‘Get the fuck away or we’ll kill you.’”
This was not the sale Niederauer had in mind. He brought back Ted Philipakos as the club’s Chief Brand Officer and Sonya Kondratenko as media director, two more Americans who had been part of the Venezia project in the earlier chapters.
Before the club returned to Serie A in 2021, they swapped kit supplier from Nike to Kappa and collaborated to create a collection of four fashionable fits. The amazing designs include a black home shirt which mimicked a Venetian trompe l’oeil wall texture, as seen on facades around the lagoon.
The marketing campaign that accompanied the release sold Venezia less as a football club than as a lifestyle brand. So did the opening of a new club store a year later, designed to feel like a luxury fashion boutique, with just a handful of carefully curated items. From 2022, the club engaged German design agency Bureau Borsche to develop the next set of kits, as well as a new, stylized club badge. Esquire magazine she called Fashion FC.
This rebranding was very effective. Philipakos told Esquire that 96% of merchandise sales came from outside Italy. However, success on the field was more difficult to achieve. Venezia could not survive a single season in Serie A and were relegated in last place at the end of the 2021/22 season.