Noel Biderman just wanted the name of his infidelity-enabling website -- you might have heard about it, AshleyMadison.com -- on the front of Italian basketball team Virtus Roma's jerseys.
The fact that he was trying to do it while the NBA is locked out
and Raptors centre Andrea Bargnani was in need of insurance cash in order to play for the team was purely coincidental, the Toronto native said.
While the details of the deal have appeared somewhat blurry in Toronto since the story broke, Biderman's intent was to sponsor the team as a whole, the monetary infusion alone covering Bargnani's insurance costs.
"I never approached Andrea or his agent," Biderman said on the phone from Rome Friday.
Biderman, who used to work for European sports agency Interperformances in the Italian principality of San Marino, said he was simply talking to officials from the team about Bargnani's desire to come back to Italy for the lockout when one of them asked if he'd be willing to pay the insurance costs.
"I met with the GM and I never had a conversation with Bargnani," he said.
What ensued was a € 1.5-million sponsorship offer of the team, something common in Europe, although less so lately during the continent's extended economic troubles.
"The team would be referred to as Ashley Madison Roma," Biderman said. "It would be naming rights, and two minutes of TV ad time each game."
Given that he just launched an Italian version of the site last week, it was an optimal business opportunity, and a source of unending Bargnani one-liners in Southern Ontario -- "Ashley Madison is looking for affairs not 'rebounds'" (@loveofthegame10
), "I always questioned his commitment" (@ekoreen
) -- until Friday, when under fire from the Vatican (yes, the Vatican) and Rome-based Catholic organization Opus Dei, Virtus Roma president Claudio Toti went sour on the deal quicker than meeting between Glen Rice and Sarah Palin's husband.Controversial figure
Biderman is not new to this sort of controversy.
In 2009, a handful of Toronto city councillors shot down a potential deal to plaster Toronto Transit Commission subways and streetcars with ads for the step-out site.
"It's no different than the Meadowlands," he said Friday, referring to another offer in 2010 for naming rights on the New York Giants and Jets new stadium in New Jersey. "I wanted to hear Al Michaels to say 'Welcome to Ashley Madison Stadium.' I offered significantly more than MetLife paid."
To his consternation however, the euphemism of a "European lifestyle" didn't seem to apply now on the other side of the pond.
"I'm never surprised about controversy, but Europeans are much more liberal [than North Americans], I'm genuinely surprised," he said.
When asked about the well-chronicled peccadilloes of Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, Biderman was even more candid.
"Exactly. Your prime minister is having sex with underage hookers, your church has had how many scandals? ... They have their own mess to clean up."
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