When the news of the Trieste’s basketball team being acquired by the American investors broke out last week, everyone was curious to find out who they were. We interviewed Richard Johnson, part of the CSG ventures, and one of the successful entrepreneurs who together with his MBA colleagues invested in Trieste’s basketball team.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in Colorado. I have always been passionate about sports, went to Pepperdine University in California on a tennis scholarship and tried to make it as a pro after university. I even played a tournament in La Spezia, Italy. However, it’s pretty tough to be a pro tennis player so I changed my way and went to law school at the University of Colorado. I worked for about 8 years at Ball Corporation, the main sponsor of Ball Arena where the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche play and I now work as the General Counsel of Evergent Technologies, Inc. a software that offers a leading software subscription platform and serves several notable clients in basketball and the broader sports industry. I continue to be involved in sports as a coach and the hitting partner of Andreas Seppi, the Italian tennis legend from Bolzano who currently lives in Colorado. After that I started the Wharton Executive MBA from the University of Pennsylvania, from which I’m graduating this year.
Why Pallacanestro Trieste?
During my first year of the MBA program I met the rest of our team (Richard de Meo, Founding Partner of CGS, Fitzann Reid, Prab Sekhon, John Jefferies , and Conor Barwin.) , together we created the Cotogna Sports Group and started looking for a sports team to buy. We all have a background in sports. Conor played professional American football and is now the front office for the Philadelphia Eagles. John Jefferies is the cardiologist for the Memphis Grizzlies NBA basketball team. Apart from that we have lawyers, finance experts, and an engineer. We are all united by the love for sports and entrepreneurial spirit.
Have you ever been to Trieste?
Richard de Meo spent a week there, and another teammate visited as well. They couldn’t stop talking about it’s beauty and appeal. We are thrilled to be in Trieste this week.
How Were You Connected to the Team?
One of our professors is a sports marketing specialist and we told him we were looking for a team to buy and he was the one to advise us on buying Trieste’s basketball team. We did the due diligence, looked into it the team, the market, the city and all aspects of the operations. We were convinced we had discovered a hidden gem in the city and the and started the negotiation process in late July. We closed right at the end of December, 2022.
Congrats! So what’s next for Pallacanestro Trieste?
We purchased 90% of the team as we have a high level of respect for the current management and wanted to make sure they continued to be involved both as owners and managers. We are in the mode of listening to the players, funs, managers, and other stakeholders, learning as much as we can about the team, watching all of the games, staying in close touch through several weekly meetings with current management. We are flying over to Trieste next week to learn as much. We will look to add our experience and connections where we can to add value where appropriate.
How would you define your group?
We are a young American group who is very respectful of the Italian culture and the job that’s been done but we think we can add to Pallacanestro Trieste’s rich history. We are all successful young entrepreneurs and business people from US looking to elevate the team, the experience for players and fans, and make an enhanced entertainment product and opportunity for sponsors and partners. We recognize that it’s a highly competitive league, but we would love to see Pallacanestro Trieste start to rise in the rankings as early as next year. We want to add to the roster, treat the players well, and enhance the fan experience. We still need to take the time to understand what the local support culture is like and not make assumptions as Americans. NBA games are very fun, we think it’s the best entertainment in US, and that is part of the experience we want to bring to Trieste, of course all while respecting the local culture.