Thursday, 13 May 2010

Serie A clubs cross fingers over TV court ruling

Italian football could be thrown into chaos on Friday if a court case about television rights, the lifeblood of the sport, goes against the league and clubs.

Sky ItaliaConto TV, a small satellite operator, has asked a Milan court to annul a deal between Sky Italia and the Lega Calcio for the collective sale of television rights packages for Serie A matches for the next two seasons.

Conto, mainly a pay-per-view adult service, tried to bid for matches and says the 1.149 billion euro agreement was made "without competition in the digital satellite sphere".

The Lega Calcio, which governs the Italian top-flight and the second division - Serie B, has warned of dire consequences if Conto's legal action is successful, although most club presidents have said it is inconceivable the court would agree to a measure which could destroy club finances.

"We don't want to paint a catastrophic scenario but it is not difficult to imagine what could happen to football clubs, fans and an extremely important part of the nation's economy should Conto TV's appeal be upheld," a Lega Calcio statement read.

"The Serie A clubs would see their survival under threat."

Conto TV has been exploring legal avenues ever since July when Sky Italia, a unit of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp media empire, again won the rights to broadcast all Serie A matches exclusively live on the satellite platform.

One appeal court already blocked the satellite deal in November but the league appealed and now another Milan court will hear the case on Friday with a decision expected within 10 days.

Italy's laborious legal system has dragged on so much that most fans were unaware of the potential threat but Italian media have suddenly reacted with outrage given there would be no time to renegotiate a new TV deal for next season if Conto TV wins.

Just like clubs across Europe, Italian sides rely on the huge investment from television companies and the very framework of the professional game would collapse if no money came through and players could not be paid or bought.

Italy's antitrust authority, the AGCM, had launched a probe into the league's sale of TV football rights but ended its investigation in January saying it was satisfied with the league's future proposals.

That ruling is now under review in the courts.

The whole affair has left the league incredulous, even if the antitrust ruling offers it strong hope of victory.

"It is not normal that an operator (Conto TV) that has not shown any serious interest in bidding for the rights risks blocking the activity of football clubs and the whole of Italian football," the Lega Calcio statement continued.

While the satellite rights for Serie A were sold exclusively to Sky, the Lega Calcio divided the rights for the digital terrestrial platform into two packages and sold them to Mediaset Premium, which is owned by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and Dahlia TV, for a combined total of about 580 million euros, over the next two seasons.

In an unrelated move, the Lega Calcio is in the process of splitting into two in time for the new season so that the top tier Serie A and second division Serie B can manage their television and sponsorship deals individually.

Source: Reuters

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