Italy divvies up soccer TV rights

Despite recent rioting, government brokers deal

ROME — Soccer-crazy Italians didn’t get their regular championship fix last weekend after matches were suspended following riots across the nation, sparked by a fatal police shooting of a Lazio club supporter.

But the good news is the Italo soccer league has just inked a long-gestating, government-brokered deal that will change how the $1 billion per season local soccer TV rights pie will be split.

Previously, rights to “calcio,” as Italos call the game, were negotiated individually by team rather than collectively, which is how they are sold in France, England and Germany. That meant the billionaire clubs got the big bucks from broadcasters while smaller clubs were left with the crumbs.

So Sports Minister Giovanna Melandri had some reason to hail the agreement as “a democratic revolution,” noting that Italy’s Serie A teams suffered the highest TV coin disparity in Europe.

The revenue ratio, Melandri says, was as high as 7 to 1 with giants like Juventus, Inter Milan and Silvio Berlusconi’s A.C. Milan inking multimillion-euro deals with Berlusconi’s Mediaset and Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia paybox, and then snapping up the top players on the market.

Broadcasters then paid peanuts to more proletarian teams like Palermo and Sampdoria that, in protest, threatened a championship boycott last year.

Under the new accord, which goes into effect in 2010, Italy’s Lega Calcio league will broker all TV deals with revenues shared as follows: 40% of the pie will be split evenly among all 20 Serie A teams; 30% will be divided depending on a team’s standing; the remaining 30% depending on their estimated fan base.

A key aspect of Italy’s new collective calcio legislation is that broadcasters can’t bid for rights and then resell them. Contracts will last a maximum of three years.

Selling the calcio rights as a single package is expected to yield more moolah as a whole. While the Lega Calcio rights are now estimated to be worth E700,000 ($1 billion) for a two-year season, in Blighty BSkyB and Setanta Sports have paid more than five times that sum for a three-year British Premiere League package.

And under the new rules a portion of the revenues will go toward refurbishing Italy’s often crumbling stadiums.

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