Serie A backs down on threat to cut Sky signal as Wanda 'among potential investors'
The 20 clubs in Italian soccer’s top-tier Serie A have taken the decision not to withhold coverage from Sky Italia, the league’s domestic pay-television broadcasting partner, for the remainder of the 2019-20 season.
Amid an ongoing dispute over an outstanding rights fee payment, the clubs decided at a meeting yesterday to merely issue Sky with another written order to stump up the €131 million ($148 million) that was originally due in May, but which the broadcaster has shown no intention of paying given the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
The league had already taken out an injunction against Sky, from a Milanese civil court, and reportedly told the broadcaster last month that if the payment was not made by 12 July, its signal to broadcast the last few, pivotal weeks of the season would be cut.
Out of the 20 Serie A clubs, 14 would have needed to vote for the signal to be cut, and the league was confident it had the legal authority to take such a step.
Instead, Serie A has now given Romano Vaccarella, its lawyer, a mandate to “reiterate to Sky the order to pay the instalment due in May in view of the injunction issued by the Court of Milan.”
The league’s statement added: “To protect… their fans, sponsors and all stakeholders, (we) have decided not to suspend the execution of the audiovisual license agreement, despite Sky’s failure to pay.”
Sky had refused to make the payment in May, an instalment for its coverage of the current campaign, because at that point the league was shut down because of the pandemic.
When the league restarted behind closed doors on 20 June, the broadcaster asked for a reduction in its payments for the season of between 15 per cent and 18 per cent, on the basis that the conditions under which the rights fee contract had been signed had changed - matches were being played at different times, later in the year, and without a stadium audience.
Despite an Italian civil court siding with the league, and issuing Sky with the injunction to make the full payment, the ruling was not immediately enforceable, and Sky can still appeal.
After a similar dispute, DAZN, the over-the-top subscription service which is the league’s other main domestic rights holder, eventually agreed a payment structure with Serie A in June, as did IMG, the international agency which handles the league's international media and other commercial rights.
Sky and DAZN hold Serie A rights in a three-year deal worth €973 million per season (€780 million from Sky and €193 million from DAZN), running to the end of the 2020-21 campaign, while the deal with IMG is worth more than €360 million per year.
In May, Luigi De Siervo, Serie A’s chief executive, stressed the need for “Sky to meet the payment deadlines set by the contracts as a priority.”
The situation is complicated further by the fact that Serie A is set to issue the invitation to tender for broadcast rights between 2021 and 2024 in the next few weeks.
The league said following yesterday’s meeting that “as regards television rights, the preparatory work for the call for tenders for the three-year period 2021-24 will continue in the coming weeks.”
Sky has already expressed its intention to bid high to retain Serie A rights, and the Italian newspaper La Repubblica has now said that online giant Amazon is also eager to participate.
Various Italian media reports have suggested that the Serie A clubs do not want to damage relations with a key broadcast partner at this point by cutting off its signal.
Meanwhile, Serie A is reported to have approved continued talks with seven companies over potential investment in the league.
The number is said to include Wanda Sports Group and its subsidiary agency Infront, an established partner of Serie A, and private equity firm CVC Capital Partners.
Serie A has been mulling an approach from CVC, which proposed the acquisition of 20 per cent of a new company that would manage broadcasting rights from 2021, the international trademark for the league and its commercial development in a deal worth some €2.2 billion. However, it is reported that the exclusive negotiating period could now have expired.
Infront Italy has a six-year, €5.94 billion minimum guarantee agreement with Serie A running to 2021 to act as its exclusive adviser on both domestic and international media rights.
La Republicca reported that at Monday's meeting the green light was given for talks to proceed with CVC, Bain Capital, Advent International, General Atlantic, TPG Capital, Apollo Global Management and Wanda-Infront.
It is understood that Serie A, led by president Paolo Dal Pino, is inviting concrete proposals by a deadline of 24 July and that a meeting would be held in the last week of the month for the presentation of the offers for the clubs to vote on.
In other developments, Serie A is hopeful that fans can return, at least in small numbers, for matches before the end of the 2019-20 season.
All games are currently taking place behind closed doors but following yesterday’s meeting, the league expressed hope that “each club, will be allowed to open its stadium to a limited number of fans, on the basis of the situation and the facility" in the coming weeks.
The league added that it is working on a protocol to be sent to Gabriele Gravina, the president of the FIGC, the Italian soccer federation, to form the basis of a dialogue with government institutions.
The final matchday of the Serie A season is 2 August.