TV football rights in Italy: from stadium to studio
This sport (football, not food!) is really popular here and feeding dozens of daily TV broadcasts and several specialised channels. It has history too. The first broadcast of this kind “La Domenica Sportiva”, was experimentally aired by RAI on 11th October 1953, making use of TV images right from the football fields.
All the technical development of Italian state broadcaster RAI is closely tied to football and the Italian Championship. At the beginning all images were shot on film and brought back to RAI headquarters for developing and printing, but following the development of microwave backbones it was finally possible to take TV cameras into every stadium and transfer their images via radio links to the main studio.
A lot of time has passed since, and in Italy we saw the birth of commercial TV stations who were the first to broadcast football matches right live from the stadiums, since up to 1981 (on the contrary of what happens on the British soil) in the first years there were no audiovisual rights on football and so all TV stations could broadcast directly from from fields.
Then, TV transmissions became scrambled and relayed by satellites and after Italy hosted the World Cup in 1990, the country saw the birth of pay-TV (Tele +) who acquired TV football Serie A rights and from 1993/94 started broadcasting live scrambled matches. And that’s history, since that championship was the transformation of football “from stadium”, that it was based almost exclusively on selling tickets, to football “from studio”, that is financed primarily from TV cash.
That was the first “paying season” which aroused an incredible “bagarre” for the TV rights mainly between pay-TV competitors at that time, Tele+ and Stream.
These two competitors in the end were fused in Sky Italy and the dominion on football on TV was in the hands of a single provider if we exclude just one season 2003/04 in which a new provider, Gioco Calcio TV (managed by the Italian Football League itself) tried a brief and hopeless competition.
Coming to more recent times, with the starting of TV terrestrial digital transmissions, two new TV editors came to market, Mediaset Premium and La7 Cartapiù (an encrypted versions of the same free generalist channel). The latter being sold from Italian Telecom to a Scandinavian group, AirPlus, who transformed it in Dahlia TV, which closed some contacts with some teams, and ended up closing the channel completely last February 2011, due to incredible economic loss anda significant disproportion between income and expenses.
This fragmentation of the Italian TV landscape with several TV platforms brought inevitably to a pulverization of TV football rights in several packages differing from kind of transmission, typology of diffusion (satellite, DTT, encrypted, free, etc.) and nature of contents, (highlights, replicas, interviews, etc), that let to increasingly expensive costs on behalf of TV channels.
During the latest months Italy has witnessed incredible quarrels, due to the way of sharing these TV rights, in particular between the teams of higher level, though only recently some kind of agreement seems reached. It is to be considered the incredible amount of millions of Euros involved, one billion Euro per season, which should be divided in proportion to each team: this being a rather complicated mechanism: half of the amount calculated on demoscopic surveys plus Auditel results, half considering the same results without TV ratings.
As anyone may imagine, it is a very delicate matter especially after the 2010/2011 championship, due to a new law issued by Minister Melandri, which said football rights were no longer the matter of each football team, but after eleven years they came back to be throughly managed by the Football League through an advisor, Infront.
And for the running championship, one contract involves Sky on the whole championship on satellite platforms, one on DTT with Mediaset Premium for all matches of 12 out of 20 teams which are in the “girone”, the tournament (that is 324 matches out of a total of 380).
And Italian state broadcaster RAI is still allowed to release popular broadcasts like “Quelli che il calcio”, “Stadio Sprint” and “90° Minuto” (on RaiDue), pre/post match discussions like “Primo Stadio” and the complete replicas of some amongst the best matches if held at least eight days before, on Rai Sport 1. While we are writing, the discussion wether to renew or not the rights for RAI unencrypted broadcasts is still on, but as per Sky the agreement was reached last September, involving the forthcoming three seasons, for €1,638m!
And also the contract for Mediaset on DTT for €804m, and the rights for eight teams are still unsold for terrestrial services. And this is the A Series. For the B Series it’s a whole other story…