Rai nets season-high Champions League audience but may opt out for 2019-20
The free-to-air rights for the Uefa Champions League could be set for a swift return to Mediaset, the commercial network in Italy, as Rai, the public-service broadcaster, considers backtracking on its agreement with rights-holder Sky Italia to show matches from European soccer's elite clubs competition, according to reports in the country.
Rai had until 31 January to agree to the terms of the free-to-air package of rights that includes the best match involving an Italian team on Wednesday nights in each round of matches, plus two semi-final games, the final and the annual Super Cup.
A week before that deadline, Rai agreed to exercise the option for 2019-20, but it has now emerged that several board members at the broadcaster have baulked at the reported €40-million ($45-million) fee being requested by Sky, despite the strong audiences this season's competition has attracted.Sky outbid incumbent Mediaset to land the Italian rights to the Champions League to 2020-21 in a deal worth between €270 million and €290 million per season.
In a bid to recoup some of that outlay, Sky struck a sub-licensing deal with Rai ahead of the 2018-19 campaign, the first to have four automatic places reserved for Italian clubs following changes to the qualifying structure.
If Rai does decide against broadcasting the Champions League next season, Sky would likely turn to Mediaset to take on the free-to-air contract.
Mediaset would be interested in buying those rights, and believes it is in a strong negotiating position, according to reports in Italy.
Another option open to Sky would be to show the matches on its free-to-air TV8 channel, albeit it is understood the advertising revenues that would yield would fall some way short of a sub-licensing rights deal.
Italian interest in this season's Champions League revolves around Roma and Juventus, whose 2-0 defeat in Spain by Atletico Madrid on Wednesday evening was watched by 6.87 million people on Rai 1, a market share of 25.5 per cent.It was the most-watched Champions League game on Rai this season, exceeding the 6.2 million (24.1 per cent) that watched the group stage clash between Juventus and Manchester United.