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Sky and Lega Serie A hit back at free-to-air criticism

The teams line up in front of an empty stadium ahead of the Serie A match between Parma and SPAL at Stadio Ennio Tardini (by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)

Lega Serie A, the operating body of the top division of Italian club football, and domestic rights-holder, pay-television broadcaster Sky Italia, have hit out at comments by Italian sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora criticising the lack of free-to-air access to matches amid the country’s coronavirus crisis.

The Italian government last week ordered all sporting events in the country to take place without spectators and behind closed doors until April 3. The weekend’s round of Serie A games were the first to be held under these guidelines, with yesterday’s (Sunday’s) opening encounter between Parma and Spal played out in farcical circumstances.

Due to kick-off at 12:30pm (CET), the match was delayed until 1:45pm as Spadafora backed comments from players’ union president Damiano Tommasi in calling for a complete suspension of games. Earlier, Spadafora had criticised the Lega and Sky for what he perceives as the organisations’ failings in opening up access to Serie A amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Spadafora said: “Even before the situation became so dramatic for the country, Lega Serie A and Sky had already refused to allow thousands of Italians, forced in spite of themselves to stay at home, to be able to see the games in the clear, hiding behind alleged regulatory difficulties which…could have been largely overcome.

“Instead, economic interests…prevailed for those who claim to have always enjoyed a privileged treatment and who now live outside reality. In the next few days I will take into consideration every legislative and useful means to bring order to a world that risks not representing the ethical and moral values ​​to which we would always like to aspire.”

Free-to-air access to matches has been a major issue since the coronavirus took hold in Italy.

However, both Sky and the Lega claim they are meeting their obligations. Sky said in a statement: “We are sorry to note that the declarations of the minister of sport do not correspond to the truth of the facts.

“In fact, Sky had for many days given full availability both to Juventus-Inter on its free-to-air channels (TV8 and Cielo) and to the matches of which Sky holds the paid rights. TV8 and Cielo are available on the digital terrestrial platform for all citizens and all fans and not only to subscribers. The current rules and laws cannot be overcome, which Lega Serie A has many times stated and clarified.”

The Lega added: “The Lega Serie A Council, which met in the wake of the postponement of the start of the Tardini (Parma-Spal) game, deemed it necessary to comply with the government guidelines set out in the Prime Minister’s decree, continuing with the games held behind closed doors.

“The same considerations expressed here apply with regard to television rights, where Lega, Sky and DAZN have complied with the existing provisions. The repeated and conflicting government declarations only contribute to increasing the general state of confusion and certainly do not help the system to overcome the moment of difficulty generated by the virus.”

Sky Italia holds the rights to Serie A jointly with subscription OTT platform DAZN. The pair are in the penultimate season of their agreement with Lega Serie A with the league expected to issue its domestic media-rights tender in April.

Sky holds the rights to seven of the 10 weekly fixtures, a total of 266 matches broadcast on its platforms per season. DAZN holds the rights to the remaining three matches giving it a total of 114 per season.

The deals with Sky and DAZN are worth €973m ($1.11bn) per season. Both deals are exclusive and platform neutral and run from 2018-19 to 2020-21.