OTT & Digital

Sky Italia ready to take to the “front line” over Serie A rights

Network’s CEO responds to talk of soccer league partnership with Mediapro in 2021.

by Tom Bassam

Sky Italia ready to take to the “front line” over Serie A rights

Pay-TV broadcaster Sky Italia has stated an intention to remain a key player in the domestic soccer broadcast picture amid talk of Serie A establishing its own in-house network alongside Spanish sports rights company Mediapro from 2021.

Currently, Sky shares live rights to Serie A with over-the-top (OTT) service DAZN, with the pair coming toward the end of their first season in separate three-year deals worth a total of €937 million (US$1.05 billion) annually to Italy’s top-flight soccer league.

However, at a meeting of Serie A’s 20 clubs in Milan last week, Luigi de Siervo, the new chief executive of Serie A, presented an outline of the league’s plans for the dissemination of content from 2021 onwards.

According to Sportcal, De Siervo told the Serie A clubs that he wants to shift the league body into a media company, adding: “In this context of technological evolution, the challenge is to transform this association into a company that produces content, acquiring internal, editorial, strategic and later even realisation structures, perhaps identifying a series of external producers that help to more easily present our product.”

De Siervo also reportedly admitted that a dedicated TV channel “is one of the concrete hypotheses on the table”, but that the league acting “as a content producer is the most plausible scenario, whether it is as a channel or a block of content on an on-demand platform is not much of a difference”.

Mediapro has been in talks with Serie A over recent months regarding the status of the €64 million (US$71.5 million) deposit the company paid last year as part of its rescinded Serie A rights contract. It has been suggested that the deposit could be used as down payment for a new partnership to develop a Serie A broadcast offering.

“We are in a phase of confrontation and dialogue with Mediapro and also with other interlocutors to evaluate all the hypotheses on the table regarding media rights of our championship,” a Serie A spokesperson told SportsPro last week.

Now, Andrea Zappia, chief executive of Sky Continental Europe, and the former head of Sky Italia, has addressed the potential loss of Serie A rights, telling attendees at the A-Words event in Rome: "I would like to reiterate that the will and commitment of Sky Italia in sport and Italian football are the same we have had over the last 16 years, in which we have been the largest and most reliable investor in the sector."

He continued: "We are ready to engage ourselves in the front line with the same strength and reliability as always in view of the upcoming deadlines [next Serie A tender]. For some months Sky has had a new owner, Comcast, and the company is even stronger and determined to support continued business growth."

Mediapro’s interest in Serie A has been long-running. After last year’s initial tender Mediapro won the bid for media rights from 2018/19 to 2020/21 with an offer just €1,000 (US$1,100) above the €1.05 billion (US$1.17 billion) annual reserve price, with Italy’s antitrust watchdog approving the deal on the condition that the agency acted as a broker, selling the rights to other broadcasters.

It was reported at the time that Mediapro would try to pursue the creation of a Serie A channel to be distributed on various platforms in order to comply with the regulations.

However, a legal challenge from Sky saw the Court of Milan effectively cancel the invitation to tender launched by Mediapro, ruling that the company’s offer would create a monopoly. Serie A had already terminated its deal with the Spanish company over financial guarantees, later awarding the rights to DAZN and Sky Italia.

Mediapro has not let the issue lie, bringing in the former senior director of sports rights at Sky Italia and defeated challenger to De Servio as Serie A chief executive, Matteo Mammi, as an adviser.