Nine years ago, Aurelio De Laurentiis, nephew of late great movie mogul Dino De Laurentiis, branched out from movies into sports by snapping up the Napoli soccer club, whose fortunes had plummeted after its Diego Maradona glory days.
In three years, he brought the club back from the inferior Serie C circuit to the top, Serie A. This past season ended with Napoli ranked No. 2 in Italy.
“I knew nothing about soccer when I started, and my movie biz know-how has been crucial,” he says, explaining that Napoli players have contracts with similar clauses to those of the actors and film directors in his Filmauro stable, including demands for exclusive rights to their images for marketing and tie-in purposes.
In July, De Laurentiis sold striker Edinson Cavani to Paris Saint Germain for a reported €64 million ($84 million), which is among the highest sums ever paid for a soccer player. De Laurentiis — whose flair for the dramatic has seen him force new signing Gokhan Inler to conduct a press conference wearing a lion mask — has vowed to put almost twice that coin back into the team. So far, he’s splurged a reported $53 million for Argentine star Gonzalo Higuain alone.
Now De Laurentiis intends to expand internationally in soccer over the next 10 years by acquiring a U.K. team, one in the U.S. and one in Brazil, to create a global network of clubs, he says. While Udinese owner Giampaolo Pozzo has instituted a similar plan in recent years, acquiring Spanish club Granada and English team Watford, such multi-team ownership is still unusual in Italy.
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But De Laurentiis is not about to drop the ball on his movie side. In fact, he is planning to move to Los Angeles to give more attention to film. His Filmauro is among Italy’s top production/distribution companies, with its Christmas comedies, including smash hits “Christmas on the Nile” and “Christmas in India,” forming Italy’s longest-running franchise.
Perhaps as a nod to both his film and sports personae, he also produced a movie about rugby in Italy, “Il Terzo Tempo,” by first-time helmer Enrico Maria Artale, set to screen at the upcoming Venice Film Festival.