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EXCLUSIVE: Round one to IMG in legal battle with Serie A as agency secures €30m discount

(Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

The IMG agency has secured a discount on its payment for the international rights to Serie A worth €30m ($33.3m) as a settlement in a dispute over the way the league’s Italian-language rights were sold, SportBusiness understands.

The amount is equivalent to €10m per season. IMG’s three-year contract began in the 2018-19 season. The agency had been seeking almost €20m per season.

A separate legal battle between the league and the agency, following an Italian antitrust ruling that IMG had acted as part of a buying cartel when bidding for Serie A’s international rights, rumbles on.

Discount

IMG had threatened to take the league to court for breach of contract regarding the performance of the league’s deal with Italian state broadcaster Rai for rights which, by law, the league must make available to Italian expatriate communities around the world. The agency claimed that the way the rights were sold prevented it from securing market value for its main rights package.

IMG paid over €380m per season for the exclusive international rights to Serie A for three seasons, from 2018-19 to 2020-21. One package of rights was carved out and sold separately: Rai paid €4m per season for the global, non-exclusive Italian-language rights to three matches per week. The matches are carried on its international general entertainment channel Rai Italia.

Although the discount was just over half the €19.33m per season IMG had initially claimed, informed sources say the agency is satisfied because the discount proves that its claim was correct in principle. The league had initially rejected the claim, saying it was without legal foundation.

It is understood that, to date, the league has not sought to offset the cost of the settlement with IMG by making a damages claim against Rai.

Cartel dispute latest

At last Monday’s league assembly, the Serie A clubs voted by 16 to four to allow the league to be the single plaintiff in a separate legal battle with IMG.

The dispute followed a ruling by Italy’s antitrust authority (AGCM) in May 2019 that three agencies – MP & Silva, IMG and B4 capital – had for many years acted as a cartel in the acquisition of the international rights to Serie A, Serie B, the Coppa Italia and the Italian Super Cup.

In September, three clubs – Chievo, Fiorentina and Torino – lodged individual compensation claims against IMG. Chievo was claiming €81.1m, Fiorentina claimed €241.6m and Torino claimed €167.8m. These will now be dropped.

The league claim has not yet been lodged with the courts.

The clubs had planned action solely against IMG because in the interim period the other two agencies had gone into liquidation.

Mediapro talks continue

Last Monday, the league’s new president Paolo Dal Pino also met three representatives of the Mediapro agency – Jaume Roures, Marco Bogarelli and Matteo Mammì – to get an update on the agency’s proposed league channel. Dal Pino told the agency he would put together a formal response to the proposal in the coming weeks.

Dal Pino told the clubs that the sale of the league’s domestic rights would be wrapped up within six months.

Separately, details of a media-rights bonus for the league’s chief executive, Luigi De Siervo, was reported by Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano last Wednesday.

The report said De Siervo stands to earn a bonus which could be greater than €3m should the league increase its revenues from media rights in the next cycle. The report gave De Siervo’s basic annual salary as €800,000, with bonuses of up to €160,000. In 2019, he did not earn the bonus. The contract also contains an “extraordinary bonus” which would be triggered if the league increased total central revenues. He will earn one per cent of any amount above the current €1.42bn per season. If the league earned €1.52bn, that would be €1m per season during the three-year contract period.

De Siervo joined the league from the Infront agency, having previously worked for state broadcaster Rai.