Serie A clubs to meet again as Dal Pino applies pressure for rights deal
Italian soccer’s top-tier Serie A has called a new virtual assembly for Thursday to address pressing issues including the award of domestic broadcasting rights for next season onwards.
The announcement comes after Paolo Dal Pino, the president of Serie A, called for the rights to be awarded “as soon as possible.”
Serie A had hoped to close a deal for the 2021-22 to 2023-24 period last month, but the process has dragged on with as yet insufficient support for the highest offer from DAZN, the OTT subscription platform.
The meeting will also consider other issues including the distribution of rights in the Middle East and North Africa for the same period, and proposed private equity investment in Serie A, for which enthusiasm has waned among the 20 clubs.
DAZN is prepared to pay €840 million ($1 billion) per year for live rights in Italy to all 10 Serie A matches per round, with three to be co-broadcast by telecoms operator TIM.
However, in a vote last Friday, the deal was approved by only 11 of the 20 clubs, with the other nine abstaining, and the backing of 14 was required for it to go through.
Pay-TV operator Sky Italia, which presently shares rights to Serie A with DAZN, had offered €750 million per year for all matches and another €50 million to €70 million in the event of the creation of a league OTT channel.
With the clock ticking down to next season, and international rights deals still to be concluded, Dal Pino is determined that the domestic situation be resolved this week.
In an interview on Italian radio station Gr Parliamento yesterday, he said: “We should have an assembly on TV rights by the weekend and it is my intention to proceed with the assignment as soon as possible.
“We have conducted an auction, we have received extremely interesting offers that place the Serie A league at the top of the auctions that have taken place in other European countries and therefore it is time to make a decision.”
It is understood that DAZN still regards its bid as the strongest and remains hopeful that it will be accepted in due course.
However, it has clashed with Sky over the proposed involvement of TIM, which the pay-TV broadcaster has suggested could breach competition regulations, something that is denied by DAZN.
At present, Serie A brings in €973 million per season for its domestic media rights - €780 million from Sky, which shows seven matches per round, and €193 million from DAZN, which shows three.
If a deal is not agreed promptly then one option for Serie A is to revert to the plan for a dedicated OTT channel.
Eleven Sports, the international pay-TV broadcaster, is said to be waiting in the wings to be a potential partner of the channel, and could even partner with Sky, which is banned from exclusively buying and transmitting sports content online until 2022.
Most of Serie A’s top clubs, including Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Lazio and Napoli, voted in favour of the deal with DAZN.
However, the situation is further complicated by division between the 20 teams over proposed private equity investment in a new media company of Serie A that would handle the league’s rights.
Last November, the clubs voted unanimously to proceed with the establishment of the company in partnership with a consortium led by CVC Capital Partners, which has offered €1.7 billion for a 10 per cent stake.
The deal was seen as beneficial given debts across the league exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, in a letter to Paolo Dal Pino last month, a group of seven leading clubs claimed that the deal “is not viable anymore.”
Under the proposed agreement, CVC was to hold 50 per cent of the consortium’s stake in the media business, Advent International 40 per cent and Italian state-backed fund FSI 10 per cent.
Asked about the proposed deal, Dal Pino said on Monday: “In the near recovery time we had a change of direction by some clubs. Today the strategic assumptions underlying the fund project remain valid and unchanged and are on the one hand the definition of a new governance and on the other hand giving financial instruments to a sector that should not be forgotten has almost €5 billion in debt.
“We must think that in order to be balanced, this football must have more solid financial structures, I am thinking of the 20 clubs of [Serie] A. The conditions are there, upon which I am very happy to have created a lot of attention around Serie A and to have created a virtuous mechanism by which the largest international investment funds have given a value to A.
“Now obviously the choice is to be made by the clubs, if they believe that this is a very good path, otherwise in recent months we have built a value anyway.”
The deadline for the sale of Serie A rights in the MENA region was pushed back from 1 February to 15 February, and then to 28 February.
The package was carved out of the international rights package for the 2021-22 to 2023-24 cycle, which yielded almost 50 bids by the 11 January deadline.
Serie A has since been holding direct talks with interested broadcasters and agencies.
The MENA tender covers 25 packages for each of Serie A and the Coppa Italia (including the Supercoppa): one package covering the entire region; and 24 packages for the individual countries which are part of the region.
Serie A said it will be possible for interested parties to buy one or more packages.
Rights in MENA, as well as France, Australia and Turkey, are presently held by BeIN Sports, with the international pay-TV operator having renegotiated the final year of its contract, worth around €155 million per season, ahead of the 2020-21 campaign, citing the impact of piracy.
However, BeIN was considering staying out of the auction, as it was said to be annoyed with Serie A's decision to tender the rights in individual markets, rather than solely pressing ahead with a pan-MENA deal.
Qatar-based BeIN's business has been heavily impacted by beoutQ, the Saudi Arabia-backed pirate network, and relations between the broadcaster and Serie A were not helped when the league signed a lucrative deal with the Saudi government to stage three editions of the Supercoppa in the kingdom over a five-year period.
Two of those have been held already, and with January’s edition being staged in Italy, it means the final Supercoppa of the Saudi contract will be played in the country in either 2022 or 2023.