RAI Italia HD

It was a little over two months ago when it was announced that IMG, the global sports, marketing and media company had acquired the Serie A international TV rights for Italy’s top flight league for €371 million per season.

There has been no official press release yet from IMG or the Lega Serie A, as they are in the process of ironing out the final details of the contract but it will be done in the coming days as this is just a formality.

IMG won the bid over three other finalists: incumbent MP Silva, who held the international rights in the previous tender, Perform and BeIN Sports (Al Jazeera). Although MP Silva offered the best economic package, the club presidents preferred IMG’s distribution strategy and development plan to grow Serie A abroad.

To shed some light into what transpired and what international calcio fans can expect moving forward, Calcio e Finanza spoke with Infront CEO Luigi De Siervo in an exclusive interview.

For the benefit of our readers, can you please explain what your role was in the tender process for the Serie A international rights abroad?

“Infront acts as an advisor to Lega Serie A and in regards to the international tender it worked with the league to guarantee a certain amount of revenue from the sale of the rights to broadcast the Serie A matches abroad. We received the offers, evaluated them, and also negotiated in private both with the individual broadcasters and the large media firms. We then proceeded to analyze further and share our opinion with the league, and then it is up to the club presidents to vote to make their decision.”

While 18 out of 20 clubs voted in favour of IMG, Napoli President Aurelio Di Laurentiis was opposed as he felt the amount received was insufficient. What amount was he expecting to receive?

“Although the Serie A doubled the amount of revenues compared to the previous tender, Di Laurentiis was expecting to receive revenues similar to what La Liga got (approximately €636M).”

There is significant gap between the international TV revenues of La Liga (€636M) and the €371M from Serie A. De Siervo is confident in three years time for the next tender, Serie A will be in a position to close this gap significantly. He explained how there are some positive changes occurring at the league level both in terms of governance and administration, with the election of a new president and a new CEO that will bear fruit.

In addition, there’s a strategy in place in terms of broadcasting the matches on different dates/times and on various platforms that will also help grow the viewership.

By choosing IMG over MP Silva, one can assume a different strategy and approach was needed compared to the status quo. What part of the IMG proposal appealed to the club presidents the most and can you shed some light on what changes will occur in the future in terms of distribution and access to Serie A matches abroad?

“IMG presented a development plan that was very thorough, not only for areas where there is an established distribution but also parts of the world where it is less developed. On the developed side, IMG has strong partners and distributors already established with other leagues that they could leverage. For areas where this is less developed, IMG had a bold plan to take advantage of the latest technologies and really grow the OTT offering so Serie A matches can be accessed almost everywhere with ease.

We want to ensure as many viewers as possible can watch the games, whether online or on TV. “

In North America, the Premier League is on NBC and the Bundesliga on FOX, channels almost everyone has or can get for a relatively low cost. Serie A matches instead are broadcast in English on BeIN Sports, a channel that limits viewers significantly due to cost ($15 per month) and accessibility (as the channel is not distributed everywhere). Given the decision to focus more on qualitative aspects over the quantitative ones, is it safe to assume the club presidents and Infront would want IMG to have Serie A matches broadcast on a channel that everyone has (NBC, FOX, ESPN, CBS, ABC…), and can IMG be obligated to do so?

“Although we cannot oblige IMG to choose a specific channel to broadcast the Serie A matches, it would be our preference to have the matches available to as many viewers as possible and follow the model of the other leagues you mentioned. We hope that will be the result.

IMG detailed their strategy to us and we have confidence in their ability to deliver what they promised.”

Serie A fans have often complained that BeIN Sports prioritizes La Liga matches over Serie A. To cite one example, last year instead of showing the battle for first between Roma and Juventus, BeIN Sports broadcast Barcelona vs Las Palmas. How can Serie A be promoted properly under these circumstances?

“I am aware of this issue and the fault is not on BeIN Sports directly but on the distribution side. Football fans abroad, especially on social media, tend to connect more to individual players than teams, hence the attraction to Real Madrid and Barcelona due to Ronaldo and Messi, respectively. BeIN Sports broadcasts the matches that their distributors tell them will draw the most interest and viewers, so they accommodate.”

For Italians abroad, it was announced that Serie A matches will continue to be available on RAI Italia. A major irritant was the fact the channel is not in HD, will that change for the new season?

“Under terms of the new agreement, RAI Italia is obligated to broadcast the matches in HD as of the 2018-19 Serie A season. In addition, RAI Italia will only broadcast three matches every weekend instead of seven as part of the “Italian Communities” bid.”