It looks as if 2018-19 really will be a game-changer in Serie A. Not only have they got four automatic places in the Champions League, they’ll also begin benefiting from the new TV rights deal that substantially shifts the power structure between big and mid-table clubs.
An unexpected development came when the league accepted Spanish multimedia company Mediapro’s bid for the rights to Serie A for the next three years. There had been whispers of a bid for several weeks, and when it did arrive, it proved to be substantially higher than Sky Italia and Mediaset’s, and was promptly gobbled up by the league, unanimously voted in favour by the clubs.
As of writing the deal has yet to be rubberstamped (it has to go through the Antitrust Authority beforehand), but it signals a major shift away from old allegiances. Mediapro may’ve potentially broken the Sky/Mediaset duopoly that’s had a stranglehold over Serie A coverage since 2003.
The Catalan company are paying €1.05bn a season – the minimum target set by the league – and their bid was some €220m more than the combined Sky/Mediaset effort.
Mediaset, with all its financial troubles, refused to rise above the €200m mark. Sky meanwhile, thinking there were no other interested parties for the rights, low-balled the league with a ludicrously low €630m offer.
As the news seeped through, Sky, like a jilted lover, pleaded with the league not to accept the Mediapro offer, deeming it ‘inadmissible’. Sky’s fear is that by snapping up all the exclusive rights, Mediapro would create a dedicated Serie A channel with the sole intention of broadcasting games. However, part of the Melangri law in Italy forbids any broadcaster from gaining exclusivity of TV rights.
Once Mediapro stated they would be acting as intermediaries and not producers of their newly acquired content, Sky noticeably changed their tune and proclaimed they would be open to negotiating.
Mediapro’s entry could prove to be a game changer for Serie A, an outsider bringing fresh ideas to the table. In fact, several provisions have already been made upon completion of the deal. Firstly, the grass on all pitches must be the same height and the density of green must be identical. Secondly, advertising boards around the pitch must have precise colours. And thirdly, and perhaps the most important stipulation, is that the sections of the stadium that are in direct line of the hard camera must be filled with spectators. If clubs fail to comply then they will be sanctioned, a process already in place in La Liga.
Presentation is an issue that has dogged televisual coverage of Serie A for years, and by inserting the aforementioned conditions into the deal, Mediapro are clearly aware of this. They’ve done their homework. “We believe that profits (for Serie A in recent years) have diminished, we are here to reverse this trend,” said Tatxo Benet, one of the founders of Mediapro.
Football financial website, Calcio e Finanza, broke down how the new TV deal will be structured. It combined the hypothetical domestic deal, in addition to the confirmed international rights (that garnered €1.1bn for the same three-year cycle), and what was revealing is that the biggest winners are the mid-table teams.
In a move to give the league some parity of competitiveness in the midst of the Juventus-dominant era, the slice of the TV pie that is to be split equally among the teams will rise to 50%, an increase of 10% from the current deal. The controversial ‘number of fans’ category has also been amended, as have others.
With an extra €300m pocketed on the current deal, Atalanta come out the biggest winners, gaining an extra €25m per season on the 2015-18 deal. Sampdoria (€24m), Genoa (€20m) and Torino (€17m) can all smile a little more also. The biggest losers are Italy’s biggest team, with Juventus losing €17m between the deals. Inter (€9m), Roma (€11m), Lazio and Napoli (both €17m) all benefit.
Mediapro clearly believe there is untapped potential in Serie A and a feeling they can emulate what they’ve done for the value of La Liga and double its revenue inside several years. From next season, there will be eight different kick-off slots as opposed to the current five, in an effort to maximise viewing figures. This strategy is also implemented in La Liga.
In a depressing stat for traditionalists, there will only be three 15:00 Sunday games. It wouldn’t be surprising to see several of the biggest games pushed to an earlier slot, for example the new Saturday 15:00 kick off, to appease the mythical Asian market. This is even more likely after a Chinese company promptly bought out a majority share in Mediapro just days after they had clinched the Serie A rights. There’s no such thing as a coincidence in business.
Mediapro also plan to diversify the way their coverage of Serie A is viewed, hoping to strike deals with telecommunication giants TIM and tech companies like Amazon and Perform to stream matches.
The Antitrust Authority’s response to the deal should be announced within the next six weeks. If the green light is given, then it really will be the start of year zero for calcio.