Serie A TV channel still on the table as league explores options with Mediapro
By Simon Ward
A Serie A TV channel remains a possibility as the top Italian soccer league considers options for the distribution of live coverage in the next commercial rights cycle, with Mediapro, the Spanish sports rights and production company, in line to be a technical partner.
At a meeting of the 20 clubs in Milan yesterday, Luigi de Siervo, the new chief executive of Serie A, presented an outline of the league’s plans for the dissemination of content from 2021 onwards.
At present, live rights to Serie A are shared by Sky Italia, Italy’s leading pay-television operator, and DAZN, the international over-the-top service, in three-year deals worth €937 million ($1.05 billion) per season, which came into effect at the start of the current campaign.
However, the league has long been exploring ways in which it could have greater control of its output, and the process moved forward on Thursday, albeit de Siervo stopped short of committing to a league channel.
Addressing the assembled clubs, he said Serie A wants to evolve “from an association that organises the championship to a sports media company,” adding: “In this context of technological evolution, the challenge is to transform this association into a company that produces content, acquiring internal, editorial, strategic and later even realisation structures, perhaps identifying a series of external producers that help to more easily present our product.”
The Serie A chief said that a dedicated TV channel “is one of the concrete hypotheses on the table,” but that the league acting “as a content producer is the most plausible scenario, whether it is as a channel or a block of content on an on-demand platform is not much of a difference."
He added that he had received a mandate from the clubs to “develop Mediapro’s offer,” amounting to a technical partnership in content production, and the issue will be revisited at a further assembly in the coming weeks.
Mediapro and the league have been in contact over recent months regarding the status of the €64-million deposit, comprising a payment of €50 million plus VAT, which the company stumped up when it landed rights to Serie A for 2018-19 to 2020-21, only for the contract to be rescinded last May.
The league has kept hold of the deposit, with president Gaetano Micciché saying at the time: “The €64 million already paid by Mediapro? I am loyal to contracts, and the contract foresaw a deposit, which has been forfeited and will remain in the coffers of the league.”
It is understood that Mediapro has now proposed to use the sum as an advance in the next contract cycle from 2021-22.
At the start of 2018, Serie A accepted an offer from Mediapro for domestic media rights from 2018-19 to 2020-21 valued at just €1,000 above the €1.05-billion annual reserve price.
It was approved by Italy’s antitrust watchdog, but only on condition that the agency acted as a broker, selling the rights to other broadcasters.
It was reported at the time that Mediapro would be lobbying Serie A clubs that the best path to pursue would be the creation of a league channel to be distributed on various platforms.
This did not come to pass, and 12 months ago, following a legal challenge from Sky, the Court of Milan effectively cancelled the invitation to tender launched by Mediapro, saying that the packages drawn up by the agency “would put Mediapro in a monopoly position, inhibiting the freedom of other operators and forcing them to pay more for television services.”
That ruling was upheld, on appeal, by which time the league had already terminated its deal with Mediapro on the grounds that the company had not offered the necessary financial guarantees, and subsequently awarded rights to Sky and DAZN, which only launched in Italy last year.
Despite being stripped of the Serie A contract, Mediapro's interest in building an established business in Italy remains undiminished. Just last month Eugeni Sallent, head of Mediapro’s Televideo operation in Colombia, relocated to Milan to lead the operation in Italy, while Matteo Mammi, the former senior director of sports rights, programming and production at Sky Italia, was brought in as an adviser.
In December, Mammi lost out (by 15 votes to 4) to de Siervo in the election to become Serie A chief executive.
De Siervo had been president and chief executive of Infront Italy, a division of the international sports marketing agency that has a six-year, €5.94-billion minimum guarantee agreement with Serie A to act as its exclusive adviser on both domestic and international media rights, running to 2021.
Another Mediapro Italy consultant is understood to be Marco Bogarelli, a key figure in previous Serie A rights tenders, and the former Infront Italy president.
Bogarelli has been one of the most vocal proponents of a dedicated Serie A TV channel.
At yesterday’s meeting, Serie A unveiled a new logo (below), developed in collaboration with design agency Ragù Communication, and a new trophy, made by Iaco Group.