When Riccardo Silva was growing up in Milan, Italy, he assumed he would probably go into his family-owned chemical business, which had been around since the early 1900s.
But first he decided he would like to try working for a year for a sports-rights distribution company — a firm that acquires the broadcast rights to sporting events and sells them to local broadcasters. He liked it so much that the one year eventually extended to seven.
Then in 2004, he and two partners started their own firm, MP & Silva (the MP stands for Media Partners), which now has annual revenues of around $700 million and 20 offices around the world. That includes one in Miami where Silva, 45, the company’s president and major shareholder, now spends much of his time.
Silva also is a principal owner of a new North American Soccer League franchise that will begin play in Miami next year.
The announcement of the new team came only about two months after MP Silva’s latest coup in the sports-rights field: acquiring a five-year contract with the National Football League to market game broadcasts and other NFL programming in 42 countries and territories in Europe.
Michael Markevich, the NFL’s director of international media and business development, said, “We are appreciative of having developed a strong foundation in Europe and are excited to partner with MP & Silva to represent the NFL going forward in select European markets as they have a proven understanding of the market dynamics and media partnerships in the region. We are looking forward to working together to grow our media footprint and continue to expand our European casual and avid fan-base.”
“I’m very proud that the NFL chose us. It’s a reward for our good work,’’ Silva said in his office just off Brickell Avenue; 23 floors up, it has views of downtown Miami to the northwest and Little Havana to the west.
Among the firm’s other major holdings are the worldwide rights for Italian and French soccer league telecasts, rights for 51 countries for the English Premier League, and European rights for Roland Garros, the French Open in tennis.
Although some companies in his business make deals with broadcasters to share advertising revenues, Silva says he insists that all his clients pay for their programming, just as he pays for the content.
“I prefer to buy and sell,” he said.
Silva said that his company’s first major endeavor was gaining the rights for Italian Serie A soccer, the country’s major league. It wasn’t easy.
“At that time, each Italian soccer team owned the exclusive rights to its home games, so if you wanted all the league games, you had to negotiate with 20 different teams [and] sign 20 different contracts,’’ he said. “This was something complicated, but it also represented an opportunity that we saw and that we took.’’
Since 2010, things have been easier. The Italian league now negotiates a single contract, which Silva says he has been able to hold onto despite stiff competition.
The Silva firm’s NFL contract may sound a bit more impressive than it really is. For one thing, England and Germany, the two European countries that have shown the greatest interest in the NFL, aren’t included. (The NFL negotiates directly with local broadcasters in those countries.)
The contract does include large nations like Spain, France and Italy, but also nations like Latvia and Kazakhstan, where probably few people have ever heard of the Miami Dolphins or New England Patriots or care how much air gets put into a football.
So how can Silva get local broadcasters to pay to show NFL games? He said he negotiates contracts that combine them with sports the locals are more familiar with, such as soccer and tennis.
Rich Routman, chief revenue officer of Perform Media, a firm that has competed against and also worked with Silva on several international contracts, said the Silva firm “has done a great job throughout the world.’’ He said it is a “strong business [with] a strong foundation.’’
Routman said that “international is the next frontier’’ for U.S. sports leagues, so it makes sense for the NFL to aggressively seek to build up interest even in countries where there is little interest now.
Although MP & Silva’s main office is in London and Silva says he travels there several times a year, Miami Beach now is the permanent residence of Silva, his wife and their two young sons.
“The original idea was to come just a few times a year, for Christmas, Easter, part of the summer,” he said.
But they all liked it so much that eventually the visits got longer and longer. Now the family just goes back to Milan a few times a year. He even is part owner of a South Beach Italian restaurant, Cavalli, which he was familiar with because it has a branch in Milan.
Silva said Miami is perfect both for business, with its easy access to Latin America where his company has several contracts, and to live.
“I love Miami for the two different sides it offers: the side related to the sun, the beach, the good weather, the palms, the ocean. But also the other side, which means business, arts. ... I see it as a nice combination between New York and a Caribbean island all in one.”
Now Silva has gotten into a new business: teaming with Italian soccer star Paolo Maldini as owners of the new Miami soccer team, beating David Beckham’s proposed Major League Soccer franchise to the punch. It was a natural move for Silva, a lifelong soccer fan.
“I saw an opportunity,” he said. “I think soccer will grow dramatically in the U.S.”
Despite Beckham’s hopes to build a new stadium for his team, Silva said the new NASL team will play in an existing stadium, probably the one at Florida International University, although Sun Life Stadium and Marlins Stadium are also possibilities.
But despite Silva’s new preoccupation with the soccer team, he said, “TV rights is still 95 percent of our business, and it will stay that way.”
MP & Silva LLC
What it is: An international media rights company, which owns, manages and distributes sports media rights. Among the firm’s other major holdings are the worldwide rights for Italian and French soccer league telecasts, rights for 51 countries for the English Premier League, and European rights for Roland Garros, the French tennis open.
Company principals: Ricardo Silva, 45, president; co-founder Andrea Radrizzani, based in London and Singapore, one of the main shareholders, in charge of Europe and Asia; co-founder Carlo Pozzali, based in Miami, a minority shareholder who is mainly involved with contracts in the Americas.
Where: 20 locations worldwide. Headquarters is in London with main branch offices in Miami and Singapore.
Employees: 100 worldwide, with 10 in Miami.
Miami address: 1001 Brickell Bay Dr., Suite 2310, Miami.
Annual revenue (turnover): $700 million.
Contacts: www.mpsilva.com/ and (305) 371-9760