By Paul Nicholson
January 13 – Broadcaster Eleven Sports has added its voice to media rights holder calls for Serie A to reverse its decision to play its Super Cup in Saudi Arabia, saying the decision has “considerable implications for Eleven Sports and for the longer term value of Italian football rights.”
The match between Juventus and AC Milan is due to take place this week in Jedddah.
Eleven Sports licenses Serie A in a number of territories and says it is a “major investor in Italian football”. The TV channel has seen its rights stolen by Saudi-based broadcaster beoutQ whose pirate decoders are now being distributed across North Africa as well as becoming available in Europe and the US.
In a letter from Eleven Sports group legal counsel Andrea Cerroni to Serie A’s Marco Brunnelli, seen by Insideworldfootball, Cerroni warns that Serie A, by taking its Super Copa game to Saudi Arabia (for a $20 million three-year deal) is giving tacit support to the Saudi regime’s refusal to abide by accepted international copyright laws and is undermining the global fight by rights owners and rights holders against broadcast piracy.
Serie A and its advisors, closely linked to Italian lawyer and FIFA ethics administrative controller Mario Gallavotti, are rapidly turning the Italian league and its media proposition into the pariahs of broadcast sports rights.
It is a decision by the Italians that has made them a pawn in the chess game of the geo-politics of the middle east that have increasingly used football – and increasingly FIFA – as the easily ‘bought’ tool for political soft power in the region and globally.
Cerroni, speaking of beoutQ’s piracy, says: “Such activity causes irreparable harm to Eleven Sports, as well as to other legitimate broadcasters around the world such as the beIN Media Group, who are each faced with unauthorised, and illegal competition to their rights.
“The staging of this match in Saudi Arabia serves only to reward a country that has done nothing to combat the continued presence and operation of the beoutQ service from within its borders. The message this sends to the authorities in Saudi Arabia, to the pirate services operating from the territory and to all those legitimate broadcasters dealing with this daily assault on their rights, is that Serie A is unconcerned by such activity and even seems happy to reward it. This decision will drastically damage the ongoing efforts of the entire sports industry to combat and end this hugely disruptive, illegal and damaging piracy.”
Whether Serie A can contractually suspend the game remains to be seen, but so far there has been no official comment from the league. What Serie A is potentially risking for the $20 million it is receiving to stage the matches could be as much as $1.3 billion of international broadcast revenue over the next three years if international broadcasters – which seems increasingly likely – decide to boycott the league’s rights.
Loss of that international TV exposure for a league whose clubs are desperately trying to play catch-up with Europe’s other big leagues for international marketing and sponsorship would be financial suicide.
“We strongly urge you to reconsider the decision to stage this match in Saudi Arabia,” said Cerroni. It was always going to be a game of Politics vs Finance for Serie A, but it now looks to be morphing into a game of Russian Roulette for the Italians that could accelerate change in the whole sports broadcast revenue model.
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