Hermitage Businessman Becomes Part Owner of Italian Soccer Team
As every soccer fan knows, scoring opportunities arise suddenly, and you’ve got to be ready when they do.
When lifelong soccer fan Patrick Chovan of Hermitage, Pa., got a shot at buying a stake in an Italian team, he didn’t hesitate.
Chovan, who is president of Omega Lumber in Wheatland, Pa., recently became part of the ownership team of the Campobasso 1919 team in the Italian soccer league. He’s still in a stunned but happy state over his good fortune.
“I’m a huge soccer fan, especially Italian soccer teams,” he said. “Through a surreal chain of events, this opportunity presented itself.”
It all started when Chovan contacted the operators of AmericaDomani.com, a website of Italian American culture that he enjoys. He wanted to see if the site was looking for contributors or investors.
“Then I saw that the North Sixth Group of New York City was behind it, and my interest was piqued,” he said. “I knew of them because of their investments in Italian soccer.”
After a few conversations, he was put in touch with Matt Rizzetta, chairman of North Sixth, who told him about an investment opportunity in the Campobasso 1919 team.
“It was too unbelievable to be true,” Chovan said. “I’m now a minority partner.” The deal took place just before Christmas.
North Sixth is the majority owner with a stake of 70% to 80% of the team. Chovan is one of a handful of minority owners – a group that also includes television star Kelly Ripa and actor Mark Consuelos. The couple bought into Campobasso in December, becoming the latest in the trend of North American celebrities investing in European soccer clubs.
The team is based in Campobasso, a city in the Molise region of southern Italy. It takes its name from the year it was founded – 1919 – and is often referred to by its team nickname, “Lupi,” or “Wolves.”
It plays in 25,000-seat Nuovo Romagnoli Stadium and is known for its rabid fanbase.
The team was in danger of folding in the offseason because of “administrative failures,” according to a news release from North Sixth Group. The New York-based operating company swooped in at the last minute to save it. North Sixth Group has wholly owned and minority interests in media, marketing, technology, sports and entertainment.
Joy of Ownership
Like Chovan, North Six’s Rizzetta was also elated at becoming an owner of the team.
“This is a dream come true for me, as my grandparents immigrated to the United States from near Campobasso, and [soccer] has always been an important link in the immigrant experience,” Rizzetta said in the news release. “This allows me to stay connected to my grandparents who made an incredible sacrifice to enable me to achieve my dreams.”
According to an article in Forbes, Rizzetta estimated the team’s valuation at $10 million.
Chovan traces his own family heritage to the southern Italian city of Caserta – just 50 miles from Campobasso.
He also sees a link between Campobasso and the Youngstown-Sharon area, because both are hard-working communities that have been economically left behind. “They are an underdog,” Chovan said. “It’s like the Rust Belt.”
In Italy – like all of Europe – every city’s chief source of pride is its soccer team, and Chovan was happy to play a role in saving Campobasso 1919.
“The people there live and die with their team,” he said. Campobasso and its surrounding region is similar to Youngstown in size. The city has a population of 50,000, while the metro area is around 225,000.
Now that the team is back on firm footing, the next goal is to restore it to the top levels of Italian soccer. On that, it is succeeding.
There are nine levels of the Italian league, with at least 20 teams in each level. At the end of each season, the three worst teams are “relegated,” or demoted, to the next lowest level while the three best teams are promoted.
Campobasso, which plays in division E, finished the first half of the current season in first place with a 14-0-1 record, Chovan said. The team hopes to make it back up to division C, where it played last year. After it was purchased and saved from going defunct, the team was forced to re-enter the league in division E.
North Six Group also has an ownership stake in division B team Ascoli. “That bodes well for us, as we can transfer players there and play friendly matches against them,” Chovan said.
The Campobasso ownership team would like to expand its fan base into the United States – including the Mahoning and Shenango valleys.
“We want local bars to get behind this and make it a community team,” Chovan said.
The many people with Italian heritage in this area could boost that effort.
“I’ve had people reach out to me and say, ‘My family is from Molise,’” Chovan said. “That ancestral connection is cool, and it’s heartfelt. And from a marketing perspective, it can be great.”
Chovan’s family roots are in the towns of Capodrise and Marcianise, the Caserta province of Italy, which is adjacent to Molise.
Though he has never been to Italy, he said he will go this year and hopes to make it an annual family vacation.
Chovan, who grew up in Hubbard, Ohio, played soccer all his life. When he was a child, his mother regularly visited family in Italy, and he corresponded with his cousins there by writing letters.
The Chovan family business, Omega Lumber, was started in 1976 by Chovan’s father. Chovan took over as president in 2014.
The lumber producer has its main facility and headquarters in Wheatland, Pa., with production facilities in Greenville, Harrisville, Clintonville and New Wilmington, Pa.
The company is an industrial – not retail – lumber provider with niches in railroad ties and pallets, Chovan said.
Pictured at top: Patrick Chovan, holding a Campobasso soccer team jersey, along with his daughter Kathryn; wife, Kyleigh; and daughter Pearl.
Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.