SBJ/August 21-27, 2017/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Serie A shifts media rights strategy

Italy’s Serie A has fallen far behind England’s Premier League and Germany’s Bundesliga in both visibility and media rights revenue in the U.S., something the league hopes to address as it looks for its next media rights deal.

Juventus is one of the headline teams in the Italian league.
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The league, which features teams such as Inter, Juventus, Milan and Roma, has put out a request for bids for the rights to three seasons beginning in 2018-19, as well as the rights to its domestic cup matches. Serie A is being advised by Infront Sports & Media, a relationship that dates back to 2009 and one that has the Wanda Sports-owned agency overseeing both domestic and international media rights for the league. The deadline is Sept. 15, with the league and Infront expected to award the rights later in the month.

Aiming to break a perception that it is Europe’s fourth-best league behind England, Germany and Spain, Serie A and Infront adjusted the sales process to boost not only interest from potential rights holders, but hopefully revenue as well. For the first time, Serie A is aiming to sell its rights regionally to broadcasters, as opposed to doing a global deal with a distributor, creating packages that allow country and territorial exclusivity. In the last three-year cycle, MP & Silva won the rights to the league’s international distribution in a deal valued at roughly $710 million total, beating out IMG.

The league held a series of international roadshows for the first time last month, including stops in New York, London and Shanghai, according to documents produced by Infront for potential bidders. Executives from Serie A, Infront and clubs held 45-minute presentations for potential bidders that highlighted the league’s recent investments in broadcast production and its willingness to work with partners. It also is allowing for bids from both linear networks and potential digital or over-the-top bidders. Infront declined to comment while the sales process is active.

“We have a huge untapped opportunity in the U.S., and there was a lot of enthusiasm for how we’re packaging the rights differently this time,” said Jim Pallotta, chairman and owner of AS Roma, and who attended the roadshow in New York. “The Premier League has done a great job as a league here in the U.S. on television, but if you look at the last few Champions League Finals, it’s been teams like Juventus, Real Madrid and Barcelona from leagues that just don’t get the TV exposure the EPL has.”

The league is now broadcast on beIN Sports in the U.S. in a deal that expires after this season, which began this past weekend.. BeIN also broadcasts the Spanish league, which often shares kickoff times with the Italian league and relegates Serie A matchups to streaming-only availability. BeIN did not respond to a request for comment.

Pallotta said that while the league and clubs know they need to do more outreach to markets outside of Italy, he also believes that a more engaged rights holder could boost the league’s popularity. BeIN Sports was estimated to be in more than 22 million homes in February, compared with an estimated 84 million and 82 million for FS1 and NBCSN, respectively, according to Nielsen.

However, the early interest from potential U.S. rights holders could be described as tepid at best, according to sources with knowledge of the process.

That is due in large part to the league’s asking price, as well as its overall popularity in the U.S. The league and Infront are looking to nearly double the league’s overall international broadcast revenue to nearly $350 million per year in this next cycle. While its initial ask for the rights is unknown, the league views the Americas as an area of growth in light of the recent agreements between NBC and the Premier League and Turner and UEFA, in which the rights fees doubled in both deals.

During its season-opening week last year, the two Serie A games broadcast on beIN Sports both averaged 32,000 viewers.

The roadshow saw the league pitching its rights to companies including Amazon, DirecTV, NBC Sports Group and Fox Sports, as well as MP & Silva and several other potential partners.

While the process is still in motion, multiple sources said they believe the league may look to partner with a rights holder that can maximize its visibility via an OTT product, even if it means a lower-than-expected rights fee, as increasing its viewing audience in the U.S. may be viewed as more important than simply increasing its revenue.


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