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Serie A set on finishing season as doubts persist over rights contracts

(Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Clubs from Italy’s top-tier Serie A today reiterated their desire to finish the 2019-20 season at a league assembly meeting, but doubts remain over the fulfilment of the league’s domestic and international broadcast rights contracts.

The 20 Serie A clubs met by videoconference today and expressed their unanimous will to complete the current campaign, which has been suspended since March 9 with Italy particularly hard hit by the global Covid-19 pandemic.

The move reaffirms the statement made by Lega Serie A on April 21, when it underlined its intention to finish the season “if the government allows it to take place” and “in full compliance with the rules to protect health and safety”.

Earlier this week, Italian sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora warned that the government could end the 2019-20 season if a consensus could not be reached over medical protocols required to restart matches.

Today’s meeting landed on the same day that domestic rights-holders Sky Italia and DAZN, plus the league’s international rights agency IMG, were due to make their latest rights fee instalment as part of their deals running from 2018-19 to 2020-21.

The clubs, which have been pushing for the rights fee payments to be made, were this afternoon discussing the issue at the assembly meeting but the league is yet to communicate its position.

Domestic live rights to Serie A games are currently held by Sky, the pay-television broadcaster, and DAZN, the subscription OTT service, in deals worth €973m ($1.07bn) per season.

IMG’s deal is worth just over €380m per season for international broadcast rights, club archive rights, betting rights, a marketing spend and fee for access to the broadcast signal.

All three all thought to have been looking for a deferral on any rights fee payment given the current suspension of the league and no visibility on when – or if – the 2019-20 season will resume.

Furthermore, it is understood that international pay-television broadcaster beIN Media Group, which holds the exclusive Serie A rights in 36 territories, is moving closer to terminating its Serie A rights agreement with IMG.

BeIN is currently in the second season of a three-season deal, paying $170m (€154.6m) per season. The deal includes France, Spain, Australia, Turkey, seven Asian territories and a further 24 in the Middle East and North Africa.

The Qatar-based broadcaster had warned just under six months ago that the future of the deal was under consideration because of the league’s insistence in honouring a five-year agreement to stage the Italian Super Cup in Saudi Arabia, the home of pirate channel beoutQ. Saudi broadcaster Arabsat has denied that its frequencies are used by beoutQ to illegally stream content.

Amid the pause in Serie A action on the field, beIN is thought to be now strongly considering the termination of an agreement.

Contacted by SportBusiness, beIN Media Group today declined to comment on the future of the Serie A rights contract.

Ahead of the 2019 Super Cup between Juventus and Lazio in Riyadh, the broadcaster said that is “astonishing that the league has decided to press ahead despite all the evidence of the damage that has been done to the league’s business by beoutQ, Saudi’s pirate operation”.