Pressure mounts on Serie A's de Siervo as accusations over salary, improper conduct grow
Clubs in Italian soccer’s top-tier Serie A are placing increasing pressure on the league to remove its chief executive, Luigi de Siervo, over the fact that his salary, which is said to include a clause that could see him earn more than €1 million ($1.07 million) from an upcoming domestic broadcast rights tender, was reportedly signed off without their full knowledge.
The embattled chief executive also faces questions about his conduct regarding an ongoing dispute between the league and its international rights partner IMG, the global sports agency, over claims of conflict of interest.
According to reports in Italy, representatives from Roma, Napoli and Brescia have all written letters to the league’s new president, Paolo Dal Pino asking for clarification on why de Siervo’s full and complete salary has so far not been disclosed to them.
They have also asked Dal Pino to check whether his predecessor, Gaetano Micciche, had the necessary power to decide de Siervo’s salary without first calling a board meeting, which would normally be standard procedure in approving matters of this kind (and did not happen).
It has also been reported that representatives from several clubs are close to turning to legal action against the league, if de Siervo does not pay back the part of his salary that the clubs say has not been ratified by them.
It has been alleged that in recent board meetings, the salary of the chief executive was meant to be on the agenda but then disappeared.
It is thought de Siervo is in line for a bonus from the next domestic media rights cycle that could rise as high as €3 million. If the league increases its total central revenues, he will earn one per cent from any amount made on top of the existing €1.42 billion the league receives. If the league earns an extra €100 million for example, de Siervo would earn €1 million a year for each of the three seasons the deal lasts.
De Siervo also stands accused of a conflict of interest in the league’s current dispute with IMG over a potential breach of contract by Serie A.
IMG claimed that the method by which the league sold it international rights for the period between 2018-19 and 2020-21 meant that IMG was prevented from securing a reasonable market value for its main rights package.
IMG paid more than €360 million per season for those rights, while a separate package outside this was sold separately to Rai, the Italian public-service broadcaster which de Siervo worked at between 2000 and 2016, and was chief executive of for two years from 2014.
IMG’s claim was that because Rai was sold Italian-language rights and put matches on its international channel, IMG was unable to find international broadcasters as willing to buy Serie A rights for their channels, in a way that it would have been able to if Rai had not bought the package.
De Siervo joined Serie A in early 2019 having been president and chief executive of Infront Italy, a division of the international sports marketing agency that has a six-year, €5.94-billion minimum guarantee agreement with Serie A to act as its exclusive adviser on both domestic and international media rights, running to 2021.
The increasing opposition to de Siervo comes against the backdrop of the league looking to issue a tender for domestic broadcasting rights for the next cycle.
The sale of Serie A’s domestic rights for the 2021-22 to 2023-24 period was originally meant to take place this month, but now looks set to be delayed until April.
Before the tender can take place, Serie A clubs must decide on whether to accept Spanish media rights and production agency Mediapro's €1.283 billion per season offer to operate an in-house television channel for the league for the 2021-22 to 2023-24 cycle.
Domestic Serie A rights are presently held by pay-TV's Sky Italia and over-the-top streaming service DAZN in three-year deals worth €973 million per season that came into effect at the start of the 2018-19 campaign.
Even if the Mediapro deal is accepted, in a vote amongst league members which has now been delayed numerous times, Serie A must still offer its TV rights through a public tender as stipulated by the Melandri Law, which governs the league’s collective selling of rights. Sky and DAZN now know they must at least match the Mediapro offer if they wish to retain the rights.
Mediapro submitted its final offer to Serie A on 4 November, but a vote of the 20 top-flight clubs has been postponed numerous times since.
Earlier this month, AGCOM, the Italian communications regulator, approved the guidelines for the tender, and expressed hope that the packages of rights “stimulate competition in the pay-TV market, allowing more operators to be able to broadcast a large part of Serie A,” and would “develop competing and non-complementary offers to end consumers.”
De Siervo has already warned all interested parties that if they do not bid big, then the in-house TV channel will be launched.
Elsewhere in Serie A, Bologna have renewed their long-running kit supply deal with Macron, the Italian kit manufacturer, until 2023.
Bologna first partnered with the company in 2001, and its various sides will continue to sport the kit for a further three seasons.
Gianluca Pavanello, Macron's chief executive, said: “We cannot but be happy with this renewal… 22 years together represents a journey during which much more than a strictly professional relationship has been born.”
Macron is also the kit supplier of other Serie A clubs Lazio, Cagliari and Udinese.
Meanwhile, traditional giants AC Milan have achieved a 7.5-per-cent rise in ticket sales over the last six months, which has been credited in part to the appointment of WePlay as their global digital marketing agency to drive growth on social media and direct-to-consumer revenue.
The joint strategy has focused on tourism, capitalising on Milan's reputation as one of Europe's most popular destinations.
Casper Stylsvig, chief revenue officer at AC Milan, said: "Innovation is an important part of our DNA, and we are delighted to see our increased focus on digital have such an immediate commercial impact. Our relationship with WePlay has helped us to welcome new fans into the AC Milan community, which is an important part of our ambitious plans to drive revenue."