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Television viewing of Serie A down

Time to visit the television rights of the league.    

FC Internazionale v Genoa CFC - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Fewer people are watching Serie A matches on television in Italy compared to a year ago.

According to Calcio e Finanza, via Football Italia, 35.1 million viewers have watched the first six weeks of the league season this year, compared to 38.5 million the year before.

The Inter Milan-AS Roma match is the second-most viewed game thus far this season, drawing 1.8 million viewers. The most watched game was Juventus-Torino in the Derby della Mole which had more than 2 million viewers.

One reason why the viewership numbers are low is because every Serie A game is on television. That means fixtures that draw next to nothing factor into the total. For example, the Genoa-Chievo game had 3,587 viewers and Udinese-Chievo had just 6,992 viewers.

That’s a far cry from the nearly 2 million watching more competitive games with bigger names playing.

Sky Italia has seen an 8 percent drop in viewership while Premium Sport viewership has dropped by 10 percent over last year.

Television rights

The numbers come in at a time when the league is revisiting its television rights contracts.

The way I see it, the biggest issue for Italian football on television is the fact that they are ALL broadcast. I mean, I get it, but that doesn’t make it right. The working theory among some in power in Serie A is by broadcasting all of the games, attendance at stadiums suffers.

So far this year, that has been the case, only reverse. Stadium attendance is up while viewership is down. In week 5, an average of 23,000 fans watched fixtures at the stadiums, which is the first time average game attendance as bested 20,000 fans during mid-week fixtures in the last two years.

The highest attended game: Inter’s 1-1 draw with SPAL at the San Siro where 57,235 fans.

However, looking at the status of television rights, I have to agree that broadcasting every game on television, even in Italy, seems a bit ridiculous. The amount of money Sky Italia and Premium Sport have to pay to have between 4,000 and 6,000 viewers is simply bad business.

Recent auction

In fact, when the process was opened up, Italian networks balked. Mediaset Premium did not bid all out of protest, Sky Sport Italia and Perform all made bids that were below what the league was looking for.

Sky offered €230 million to broadcast Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Napoli and three promoted clubs “and other sides with fewer fans” worldwide and €210 million for exclusive rights to the other 12 clubs. The league was seeking at least €400 million for the satellite rights alone. Because those figures weren’t met, the league decided to start the auction process again.

“After a brief discussion, we recognized [sic] the offers were not representative of the real value of Italian football rights and voted unanimously to not assign any of the packages,” said FIGC President Carlo Tavecchio, in June after the initial bidding was abandoned. “We have time to the end of the year. If we compare the other European leagues to what we receive in Italy, I don’t think these offers can be accepted.”

What do the teams get?

Between Sky Italia and Premium, match rights bring in about €940 million a year. You can toss in about €300 million for international broadcast rights, making a little more than €1.3 billion to the league, under the rights deal negotiated back in 2015-16.

Now, the league convolutes things when it comes to paying that money out to clubs.

FC Internazionale v Genoa CFC - Serie A
Yann Karamoh of FC Internazionale Milano looks on during the Serie A match between FC Internazionale and Genoa CFC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on September 24, 2017 in Milan, Italy.
Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

About 40 percent of the domestic rights dollars are put into a pot and distributed equally among all clubs — €16.2 million per club. Another 30% is divided based on a club’s appeal in Italy. This is based on club attendance, season tickets sold and the number of club members the team has. About 5 percent is passed out based on the population of the area the team plays.

The remaining domestic money is handed out based on merit. About 30 percent is distributed based on a team’s league position in the last five years (15 percent), league positions for more than five years (10 percent) and the previous year’s position in the league (15 percent).

Now, the overseas money is a little easier. About 40 percent is divided equally which is about €6 million per club. The remaining 60 percent goes to the top 10 teams in the league. That 60 percent is divided as follows:

· €27 million to three Champions League teams (with equal payout, teams get about €33 million)

· €18 million to three Europa League teams (with equal payout, teams get €24 million)

· Seventh place gets €14.4 million (€20.4 million total), eighth place gets €12.6 million (€18.6 million total), ninth and 10th place each get €9 million (€15 million total)

International broadcasts

There are also international issues to take into account. In the United States, you have beIN SPORTS that hold the rights to Serie A. The frustration is that the Qatar-based television network with its North American sports studio in Miami often relegates Serie A games for motocross, checkers, underwater basket weaving, etc. That means you have to watch via beINConnect. Those broadcasts usually start right at game time and some have had audio issues (remember Inter-SPAL where there was a tennis match as the audio?).

beIN SPORTS has the U.S. broadcast rights through the 2018 season after they were held by Fox Sports. Fox Sports now broadcasts the Bundesliga and the UEFA Champions League.

The best option

Back in November 2016, Claudio Fenucci, general manager of Bologna, suggested Serie A should look at a more Premier League television broadcast model.

In England, only about 44 percent of matches are televised. There are no matches shown at 3 p.m. on Saturday so as to encourage fans to watch at the stadium, according to Calcio e Finanza.

The distribution in England is more equal with 50 percent of rights money distributed equally, 25 percent distributed based on league finish and 25 percent based on how many times a team is featured on television with a minimum of 10 games guaranteed and a maximum of 25.

Reducing the number of games doesn’t mean less money. Take into account the fact that television money is based a lot on performance. If you have 10 games that bring in a total of 35,000 viewers compared to one game that brings in more than 500,000, where are your best resources going to go? Like I said before, the contracts are less because media companies have to invest the same amount for a game that draws 4,000 as they would a game that pulls in 1.8 million.

There is no way a Serie A television contract is going to get any richer until the necessity to broadcast every game is removed.

That doesn’t sound bad, but there is another factor here. Some teams have expressed an interest to return the league to 18 teams. But, that is a conversation for another time.

At the end of the day, a new contract is needed, but the league has to adjust what it is looking for and remove this arcane practice of televising every game.

Oh, and beIN SPORTS … how about more Serie A features on the mothership?

Forza Inter!