Season sans fans possible

Italian broadcasters and sports fans are bracing for life without soccer as government and league officials convene a series of meetings this week to discuss whether to restart the season in the wake of Friday night’s deadly riot in Sicily.

Officials from the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) and Lega Calcio met with Sports Minister Giovanna Melandri on Monday evening to discuss measures to combat the violence that has claimed two lives and injured scores more at stadiums across the country in recent weeks (Daily Variety, Feb. 5).

All soccer matches — from the children’s leagues to the pros — have been canceled since the weekend’s bloody melee in which a police officer was killed and more than 70 fans were injured in the Sicilian city of Catania, which played host to rival Palermo.

In an unprecedented move, the Italian football federation has declared an indefinite suspension to the professional soccer season, leaving a gaping hole in broadcasters’ programming, until league officials and police can clean up the violence.

One drastic proposal being discussed: resuming games in the next two weeks, but only in select stadiums where the security is sufficient to withstand further outbreaks of violence. In stadiums with insufficient security, fans would not be permitted to enter.

Such a move could prove crippling to most clubs; an estimated 20% of team revenues come from ticket sales. Broadcasters, too, are unhappy with such a proposal.

“It would be very sad to broadcast a match from a stadium with no fans inside,” said a spokesman from satcaster Sky Italia, which has paid roughly $500 million — the most of any Italian broadcaster — for digital rights to the 2006-07 season. Mediaset paid $80 million for terrestrial rights for the season.

“We’re trying to find measures to restart football, but we do not know when. It could be in a couple of weeks, but we will have to consult with the government,” CONI president Gianni Petrucci said Monday.

Later this week, league officials, team owners and government officials will meet again to discuss how to root out the organized violence that appears to have infiltrated the fan base of most pro teams. League and government officials have vowed to crack down on these gangs, which are often organized along political lines; otherwise, they will call the season off.

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