Infront Italy names interim leader as new Serie A chief outlines priorities
By Jonathan Rest
Infront Italy, an arm of the international sports marketing agency, today announced that its general manager Jean Thomas Sauerwein will lead the business for the foreseeable future, following the election yesterday of former chief Luigi de Siervo as the new chief executive of Italian soccer's Serie A.
De Siervo is succeeding Marco Brunelli, Serie A's director general, who had been in the post on an interim basis since May, and who was promptly unveiled as the new director general of the FIGC, the Italian soccer federation, to replace Michele Uva.
Sauerwein has been with Infront Italy for two years, before which he was at Mastercard, the credit card company.
No mention was made in today's Infront Italy statement about whether a long-term replacement for de Siervo as president and chief executive is being sought, with the agency keen to reassure partners and clients that they will "continue to be supported by the same team that has accomplished significant milestones to date."
Philippe Blatter, Infront's president and chief executive, said: "We appreciate that one of our top executives has been chosen for such an important and prestigious position. It underlines Infront's key role over the past years in increasing the value of Serie A and that our work has been recognised. We will ensure that over the coming days and weeks the company will work closely with Lega in order to develop a transition plan from Luigi’s current commitment to the new one. We wish Luigi all the best and thank him for his work at Infront."
De Siervo was selected ahead of Matteo Mammi, the departing senior director of sports rights, programming and production at Sky Italia, the pay-TV broadcaster, by 15 votes to four in the third round of voting.
He has particularly strong connections with Serie A, with Infront Italy deriving a majority of its revenues from its six-year, €5.94-billion ($6.78-billion) minimum guarantee agreement with the league to act as its exclusive adviser on both domestic and international media rights, running to 2021.
Speaking after his election, de Siervo told Italian media that his priority is fighting piracy, and called for the government to rethink the extent of its impending ban on all advertisements for any products and services related to gambling, including club sponsorship deals, arguing that they bring much-needed revenue into the sport.
He said: "The problem of Italian football is piracy. In Italy there has been too high a tolerance: it is necessary to look at the best practices, in France and England, where those who violate the law must be able to be prosecuted. The content industry, whether it be film, music or football, cannot be a business of organised crime."
The 49-year-old said one of his first tasks in office will be to meet with government representatives over the betting advertising ban decree, introduced by Italy’s deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio, that aims to reduce problem gambling in Italy. With the approval of parliament, it is set come into force at the start of 2019.
Clubs have been told that while existing sponsorship deals will be allowed to continue for at least a few months, they must not be renewed, with a transitional period running to 30 June, 2019. However, new deals can be signed with betting firms until the law comes into being.
De Siervo called the proposed blanket ban legislation a "disgusting nonsense," and said that while he understood the government's "appreciable intention" to avoid pressurising fans into placing a bet during the game, "today the betting companies are the biggest investor in football and we must avoid damaging Italian football."
He instead suggested adopting a similar policy to that recently signed off in the UK, whereby the largest gambling companies have agreed a voluntary ban on advertising during live television coverage of sport.
He added: "The limit that the government wants today can be limited to the world of television."
Live domestic Serie A rights in the latest three-year cycle were won by Sky Italia and DAZN, the subscription OTT service, in deals worth €937.3 million per season, following a lengthy rights sales process which included the initial award of rights to Mediapro, the Spanish sports rights agency.
On de Siervo's to-do list for the longer term could be the launch of an in-house Serie A channel from 2021-22.
On that subject, he said: "It's too early to say, but the League must build a strong product identity... The idea is to analyse all the possibilities and scenarios."Sportcal