Rai puts soccer above F1 as Italian broadcasters pick up major rights
By Simon Ward
Rai, the Italian public-service broadcaster, and Sky Italia, the country’s leading pay-television operator, have today concluded rights deals under which they will respectively offer increased free-to-air coverage of soccer and Formula 1, the two most popular sports in Italy.
Rai, as expected, is significantly cutting back its involvement in the top motor racing series to the extent that its offering from this year onwards will comprise only live coverage of the Italian Grand Prix, in a sub-licensing deal with Sky.
However, it has retained extensive rights to soccer’s European Championships and the national team’s qualifying matches for major tournaments over the next four years, and is returning to the Uefa Champions League for the first time since 2012.
In a new three-year deal, Sky will have almost total exclusivity in Formula 1, with live coverage of all 21 rounds on its subscription Sky Sport F1 HD channel and at least four races, including the Italian event at Monza, on TV8, its free-to-air digital channel, which will carry highlights of all the other grands prix.
In addition, for the second successive European Championships, Sky will show every match live from Euro 2020.
Rai has televised Formula 1, the home of the famous Ferrari team, since 1953, but, in recent years, has been showing only nine rounds live, along with highlights of the others, and it was reported this month that its offer to Liberty Media, the US media giant that owns the sport, for continued coverage did not meet financial requirements.
The public broadcaster instead prioritised a return to the Champions League and, as anticipated, has now sub-licensed from Sky a free-to-air package of rights that includes the best match involving an Italian team on Wednesday nights in each round of matches, plus two semi-final games, the final and the annual Super Cup, in a deal starting with the 2018-19 season.
Last June, Sky outbid incumbent broadcaster Mediaset to snap up the Italian rights to the Champions League for the next three years.
It is claimed that Sky will pay between €270 million and €290 million per season, up from the €227 million Mediaset shells out at present. The pay-TV broadcaster also retained rights to the second-tier Europa League.
Rai lost free-to-air rights to the Champions League for the 2012-13 to 2014-15 seasons, having provided live coverage since the 2006-07 campaign.
However, it was eager to get back in the loop, in particular because from 2018-19 the Champions League is set to feature more Italian teams than at present, with four automatic places reserved for the country following changes to the qualifying structure.
Mediaset’s consolation prize was exclusive rights to this year’s Fifa World Cup, which it acquired in a €78-million deal last month although their value had been somewhat diminished by Italy’s surprise failure to qualify for the tournament in Russia.
It will be the first time that Rai will not show the World Cup in Italy, but it has not given up on international soccer, announcing today that it has acquired exclusive rights to the national team’s matches in the qualifying campaigns for Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup as well as the Uefa Nations League, the new competition starting later this year, and the team's international friendlies.
In addition, as in 2016, it will also show live 27 of the 51 matches from Euro 2020, to be held in 12 cities across Europe, while Sky Italia has full rights to the tournament.
CAA Eleven, Uefa's agency partner, launched the sales process in Italy for the rights to Euro 2020 and European qualifying matches for the next four-year cycle last September, with a deadline of 3 October for bids, and rights to qualifiers for matches not involving the national team have yet to be awarded.
Acclaiming its new soccer deals, Mario Orfeo, the director general of Rai, said: “Where there is Italy, Rai will be there.”
He added: “The acquisition of the free-to-air rights to the best matches in the next edition of the Champions League, in which four Italian teams will be involved, is also an extraordinary novelty for the next season’s sporting schedule.
“These new acquisitions are a source of pride for Rai, adding to a broad portfolio of rights which the public service is constantly committed to promoting and to enhancing sport for all, with nobody excluded.”
Rai has also expressed its intention to bid for rights to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and the Coppa Italia from 2018 to 2021.
The public-service broadcaster will be providing 100 hours of live coverage of next month’s winter Olympic Games from PyeongChang after its board last month approved the acquisition of rights from Discovery Communications, the media group that owns Eurosport and is the International Olympic Committee’s broadcasting partner in Europe (excluding Russia) until 2024.
The agreement marks a return of the winter Olympics to Rai after an eight-year gap, with live Sochi 2014 coverage only offered by Sky on its pay-TV and free-to-air channels.
Sky drives on with F1 Instead of being in PyeongChang, Sky can devote resources to the build-up to the new Formula 1 season, which starts with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on 25 March.
Sky has been the predominant Formula 1 broadcaster in Italy in recent years and is stepping up its commitment in the next three years in a deal that also includes support series such as the FIA Formula 2 Championship, GP3 Series and Porsche Supercup.
The full Formula 1 season will also be streamed on Now TV, Sky’s pay-as-you-go over-the-top service, as part of an enhanced digital offering.
The coverage on TV8 will complement MotoGP races and Europa League matches already shown on the channel.
Matteo Mammi, senior director, sport rights, programming and production at Sky Italia, said: “We are thrilled to have renewed our long-term relationship with Formula 1 for the following three years, and we are glad that, once again, Formula 1 has recognised Sky Italia as a key partner for engaging fans and maximising exposure of F1 brand.
“The new agreement sets a new paradigm in Italy where Sky gets full exclusivity for the first time ever and will broadcast all 21 races of which 17 are live on a pay-TV basis only. We look very much forward to the partnership and continuing to serve Formula 1 fans in Italy by offering a broader and enriched multiplatform offer, including a multitude of contents via Sky digital and social media accounts.”
Ian Holmes, director of media rights at Formula 1, added: “Italy is one of the most important countries in the history of Formula 1, where the passion for our sport is part of the DNA of many people, and it is very important to have reached this agreement which will ensure that all the races will be broadcast live.
“Also, it is crucial to have maintained a free-to-air package of rights, which will always include the Italian Grand Prix, part of the Formula 1 World Championship since its origins in 1950. Sky Italia has shown a great commitment to the sport and will offer the Italian fans a deeper and broader experience than ever before. More hours and more quality analysis across of Sky’s channels and platforms.”
In recent months, Liberty has concluded new pay-TV and free-to-air agreements and renewals with ESPN in USA, Foxtel in Australia, Canal Plus in France, RTL in Germany, Movistar Plus in Spain and Fox Sports in Latin America.