Italian men’s soccer’s top-tier Serie A is not ruling out working with agencies in the next few months as it attempts to take its international media rights deals closer in fee value to those of England’s Premier League.
Last month, the league unveiled it would be taking a revised approach to handling its overseas broadcast rights sales for the next cycle – which can either cover three seasons from 2024-25 to 2026-27, or five years running through to the end of 2028-29.
Instead of striking an overarching deal with an agency for global or near-global rights, as has been the case for previous cycles, the league is now going about the new process individually in key markets, and issued the first request for proposals (RFP) in the DACH countries of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, late last month.
This is in contrast to the method the league employed for its overseas rights covering the ongoing 2021-24 cycle, which were sold to Infront in April 2021 for €139 million ($164.4 million) annually.
Now, the league’s director of international media rights sales, Anna Guarnerio (unveiled in that role last December), has told GlobalData Sport that the new approach allows the league to “adopt a more flexible approach market-to-market, we can now go to market at the best time for every country.
She added: “The process chosen depends on the country – we can either choose direct negotiations, and some are already taking place – or we can issue RFPs."
However, she stated: “We don’t rule out working with agencies in specific countries completely, the time of the bigger agencies is now over.”
In an interview, she added that the league may use agencies to tap into specific expertise in select markets, likely to be outside the key European territories.
Guarnerio stated that Serie A “is not reinventing the wheel, it’s what the other big European leagues are doing. We can now be much more responsive to the market and get the best for the league – we think to achieve that goal, it makes sense to be more direct.”
Last year, internal Serie A documents obtained by media showed that for the cycle starting in 2024, the league is aiming to secure at least €1.1 billion from international rights deals – roughly the same as for the next domestic rights cycle (for which the tender process is taking place now).
In terms of the timescale, Guarnerio said the league is looking to “have a clear picture everywhere by the end of 2023 … Ideally, we’re looking to get everything done earlier than the start of next season, that would be a huge rush for broadcasters. We want to give proper time for our media partners to promote the league and their transmissions, as well as to make all their coverage plans.”
This new approach is possible because of changes made across 2021 and 2022 to the country’s Melandri Law, which governs the sale of overseas media rights to the country’s sporting competitions. These changes removed the three-season cap limit, making longer deals possible.
On that front, Guarnerio said: “When you can give longer visibility to a partner, especially a broadcaster looking to approach for the first time, longer deals are an advantage.”
Serie A, as is the case in Spain, Germany, and France, is doing its best to close a significant gap in terms of rights values to the Premier League, which is by far and away the most lucrative soccer league in terms of media rights.
For the 2021-24 cycle, Serie A will pocket in the region of €670 million from overseas broadcasters, while the Premier League’s equivalent income from that sector, for its 2022-25 cycle, is believed to be at least £5 billion (€5.8 billion).
On whether she thinks aiming to reach the level of fees paid to the Premier League is realistic, Guarnerio said: “The Premier League is everybody’s dream, but the gap is huge – there’s probably another league between us and them as well. It’s really unlikely that we can – in one cycle – get close to the Premier League, they started this process more like 20 or 30 years ago.
“But, to get to that level is everybody’s ultimate goal.”
In terms of the type of broadcast deals Serie A will look to strike for the next cycle, meanwhile, she said “the ideal situation is still to have a balance between linear and digital coverage in each country.”
Elsewhere, Serie A’s chief executive Luigi De Siervo has said the league is ready to launch its own streaming service and media operation if domestic broadcasters do not increase their bids for the next three seasons of action.
The domestic broadcast rights tender (for 2024-25 until the end of 2028-29) is taking place alongside the international process, and the league has delayed a decision until at least mid-October in an effort to get offers above €1 billion in total.
Multiple rounds of talks have already been held by the league with DAZN, Sky Italia (the two current domestic broadcasters), and Mediaset.
De Siervo told media in Milan: "We have the structure to offer (matches) directly to viewers….we are considering this option. We won't back offers deemed as too low.”
The league has, over the last two years, launched and then refined its International Broadcast Center, where all its international-focused content is produced, which would be the hub for such an in-house streaming service.
Currently, DAZN holds exclusive rights to show seven games per week and co-exclusive rights to air the remaining three matches along with Sky. Between them, those two networks, pay €927.5 million annually.
The platform’s contract is worth a total of €2.5 billion, while Sky pays an average of €87.5 million per season for its rights package.
In the invitation to tender (ITT), broadcasters can bid to acquire rights for three, four, or five seasons from 2024-25. The ITT features a total of eight packages with “different configurations.”
The packages include exclusive and co-exclusive options for the league’s 10 weekly matches, as well as an opportunity for a free-to-air game on Saturday evenings.