Paul Visca on how the thorny issue of television rights has rumbled on in the background of what's been an outstanding season in Serie A.
In 1906 economist Vilfredo Pareto observed that 80% of his homeland was owned by 20% of the population. One year later, a Russian scientist Boris Rosing filed a patent for a cathode ray tube design after displaying simple geometric shapes onto a screen.
Two apparently disparate events separated by less than 12 months over a century ago are combining to dampen the first anniversary celebrations of the Lega Serie A. Pareto’s concept was hijacked by Quality Management pioneer Joseph M. Juran, who expanded the Italian’s observation to coin the universal principle of the vital few and trivial many, that is 80% of the wealth is generated or held by 20% of the population; Rosing’s patent went on to be developed into designing the first television.
Wealth and television, or more accurately, how to share the money earned from the television rights of Italy’s top football division.
Founded in July, 2010, Lega Serie A was formed to allow the clubs in the 20 team league to share the earnings of their labours without having to think about the cupped hands from the clubs in the lower divisions, especially Serie B.
Now the birthday cake has been baked and the single candle has been lit, burning slowly. The wax is dribbling into the icing, because no one is there to blow it out. The seats around the table in the plush offices in Milan are empty, and not because the club president’s are playing musical chairs: Nothing ruins a family’s well-honed harmony than a sudden influx of money. 810 million euro to be precise.
Everybody wants a slice of the pie, but no one can decide who is to do the cutting.
The cake ingredients were written by Giovanna Melandri. The former Minister of Sport proposed a bill to split TV earnings using a 40:30:30 system. The decreto Melandri-Gentiloni was born of noble thought i.e. to lessen the grip on power held by the big clubs. Under the proposed bill, 40% of TV income would be shared equally between all those playing in Italy’s top tier, 30% on the basis of results and 30% on the basis of quantity of supporters.
In the post-Calciopoli peninsula, with mud still clinging to the faces of those being found guilty in the most recent match-rigging scandal – although all that was verified by the sport’s own judicial system will be put into serious question once the criminal courts pass judgement in July on alleged-mastermind Luciano Moggi – Serie A chiefs went along with the proposal, as did the politicians, and the bill became law in February 2008.
Two years later the law came into force. To celebrate, an invitation to the exclusive VIP lounge called Lega Serie A, presided by Maurizio Beretta. At the former RAI journailst’s side, Rosella Sensi was awarded pride of place.
Aiding the president and vice-president, two advisors were nominated by the clubs themselves, and in keeping with the new air of openness, Massimo Morati and Adriano Galliani stood aside. Representing the Milan giants, Juventus, Roma and Napoli was not one of their own, but Claudio Lotito. To explain the point of view of Lotito’s Lazio and the remaining 14 clubs, the gravel-voiced Maurizio Zamparini boldly stepped forward. Bold is the Palermo president’s middle name after firing 28 coaches in 24 years, 14 alone at the Sicilian club in under a decade.
However, a variation on the game of Chinese Whispers has ruined the festive atmosphere.
Who said fans? Who said supporters? What is the difference? Is there a difference? Who cares?
The squabble has its origins in the division of the 30% of the TV rights to be assigned to clubs on the basis of each club’s fan base. Not the 5% shared on the grounds of the population of the council areas where the clubs play, but the 25% divided by the number of fans for each club, which this season amounts to 200million euro.
For the Big 5, supporters are passionate fans who follow only one team. For the Smaller 15, the word supporter refers to those who sympathise for a team or maybe two, who go to the stadium, who buy merchandise, who read the sport press.
A narrow definition for the Big 5, a wider for the Smaller 15.
On April 15 the Lega Serie A assembly assigned the task of undertaking market research to discover the number of supporters to three institutions. The majority 15 votes - all from the Smaller 15 – selected Doxa, Sport+Markt and Full Six to define the parameters of the fan base (allegedly one of these three firms is charging 600thousand euro for its services) and count heads.
With all the ingredients and the recipe now in hand, the cake could be made and the first anniversary would pass with the sound of popping corks as the teams shared their wealth.
Celebrations have been put on ice, however. One week later the Big 5 blocked the move. The advisory committee was called on, as is institutionally required, to ratify the hiring of the three market research firms with another vote. This time all the Big 5 were present compared to five representatives of the Smaller 15. Five votes against five. The casting vote was held by president Beretta, who abstained (what else could he do after accepting a new job, with Unicredit, a few months back and is now waiting for a suitable replacement to come along? Yes, Unicredit, the same bank that has just sold on its majority share of AS Roma to the DiBendetto consortium. Who’s the outgoing Roma president? Rosella Sensi, who is also vice president of Lega Serie A - but this is another story).
Catania CEO Pietro Lo Monaco raged, “What happened is something serious. The Lega council simply had the task of limiting itself to ratifying the deliberation and giving the mandate to the three companies to go ahead with their market research. Instead it went against the assembly, which is sovereign.”
Ernesto Paolillo, his counterpart at Inter retorted, “This is democracy at work. The assembly had the remit of examining the workability of the deliberation and the vote finished 5-5.”
Paolillo was backed up by Milan managing director Galliani, Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, Napoli owner Aurelio de Laurentiis and Sensi. Lo Monaco counted on the support of Sampdoria chief Riccardo Garrone, Udinese patron Giampaolo Pozzo, Parma owner Tommaso Ghirardi and Zamparini.
Another twist came on May 4 when the sporting body’s Court of Justice threw out the Big 5’s appeal and the market research firms picked up their pens and questionnaires ready to probe into the secret world of football allegiance.
Having defected to defend his Lazio, Claudio Lotito claimed, “It is not understandable how these five clubs can maintain to have sustained economical damages when the results of the research have not even been presented yet.”
In response, Galliani warned, “It is only the first stage of what will be a long, drawn-out affair.”
So, how much money are the clubs actually bickering over? With the interpretation of the term supporter put forward by the Smaller 15, the first signals are that Juventus would be hardest hit, losing in the region of 50million euro; Milan, 8million.
Parma owner Ghirardi’s claim that, “the top 5 will battle it out for the European places, and the other 15 for the Championship of the Desperate,” purely on the division of the 25% up for grabs is alarmist.
There are other factors which need addressing, and if correctly resolved would bring about a significant increase in the revenue of all clubs. The most glaring is to eliminate the sale of fake replica kits within the perimeter of the stadia.
However, the mindset is firmly fixed on improving the cathode ray tube, not on searching for alternatives.
Instead of seeking improvements, new divisions are set to appear with Inter and Juventus preparing the ground for another tiff over whether fans abroad can be included in the count or only supporters within the Italian boundary.
Incapable of reaching an agreement, on May 11 the Lega Serie A assembly voted as before: five against five. The final decision once again fell to the president, a person ready to quit at a moment’s notice.
Cagliari chief Cellino piled on the pressure, “What is under discussion is the 15 minnows are voting against the five blue-bloodied clubs. President Beretta is trying to mediate because he holds the scales of justice in his hands."
As did Galliani, “Beretta works for Unicredit in the morning, in the evening he’s never at the Lega. Each must assume his own responsibility. The president has assumed his, and he will therefore assume the responsibility of the financial implications.”
Juventus president Andrea Agnelli raged, “It’s not fair that the clubs who boast 75% of the country’s fans must suffer the will of the other clubs. It’s as if the top five clubs occupy three floors of a building, while the rest all live on the fourth floor, and it is they who decide the work to be done and we pay.
“Quit Serie A? We have not excluded any possibility, and this option must be evaluated.”
Beretta voted in favour of the Smaller 15, the candle flopped into the icing and fizzled out. The legal wrangle could now shift out of the sporting jurisdiction to the civil courts because the television will (not) be revolutionized.
Paul's dulcet tones can be heard commentating on Serie A on television channels around the world. He is also the man behind the excellent Calcio and Coffee blog.