Broadcasters, digital companies and agencies will assemble in Shanghai on Saturday to hear an impassioned plea by officials from Lega Serie A and its marketing agency, Infront Sports & Media, over why the Italian top-flight deserves more respect and bigger rights fees.
It is the third and final stop on a nine-day roadshow that has also taken in London and New York, and which the league hopes will culminate in record international media rights revenues by the time the 2018-19 season kicks-off.
In years gone by Serie A’s international tender hardly caused a stir in the sports industry.
There was no fanfare, certainly no lavish build-up (the event at London’s plush Hotel Café Royal on 13 July was said to cost a six-figure sum) and was often published in Italian language only, leaving all but the closely-connected agencies at a significant disadvantage (an English translation of the last tender was available, but bidders were asked to refer to the Italian version in the case of ‘discrepancies).
The picture could not be more different for the 2018-19 to 2020-21 cycle.
At the behest of Infront Italy, the ‘Serie A Roadshow,’ attended by Italian soccer clubs and former players, was organised to give “major international operators” the chance to speak with the rights-holders about how the league will be available for broadcast during the next sales cycle.
The aim is to bridge the financial gap with LaLiga and Bundesliga when it comes to international revenues, two leagues that have led an aggressive push in promoting their leagues and activities internationally.
A 45-minute presentation from Serie A and Infront executives was punctuated with clips of the past season, as attempts were made to convey the passion, talent and drama that ‘Calcio’ has to offer.
But there was little to distinguish the league from any other in Europe.
Serie A has fallen considerably since its 90s heyday, an unfavourable combination of irrational spending and match-fixing scandals (see, Calciopoli).
It is now widely agreed that Spain’s LaLiga houses the world’s best players, that the frantic pace of England’s Premier League offers the most excitement, and that the combination of cheap tickets, fan-owned clubs and alcohol in the stands makes Germany’s Bundesliga the soccer purists’ favourite when it comes to atmosphere.
So how can the roadshows hope to set Serie A apart?
In truth, they cannot.
The aim, merely, is to bridge the financial gap with LaLiga and Bundesliga (the Premier League is comfortably out on its own) when it comes to international revenues, two leagues that have led an aggressive push in promoting their leagues and activities internationally.
Just before Serie A and Infront hit the road, the global consultancy firm Deloitte published its review of football finances, which laid bare the task facing the league and its agent.
Deloitte projects England's top 20 clubs will make €5.1 billion ($5.88 billion) in the new season from TV and sponsorship money, Bundesliga clubs €3.2 billion and LaLiga clubs €3 billion, with less than €2 billion forecast to be earned by the clubs in each of Serie A and France’s Ligue 1.
For the first time, Serie A’s international media rights will be made available regionally when they hit the market at the end of this month (pending approval by the league’s assembly on 26 July).
In late 2014, MP & Silva retained the international broadcast rights to Serie A, from 2015-16 to 2017-18, in a deal worth an average of €185 million per season, a marked increase on the fee of €117 million that it paid under the previous deal.
In the last international rights tender, MP & Silva’s offer was thought to be just over 30 per cent higher than a rival offer submitted by IMG, whose bid in turn was slightly higher than an offer from the B4 Capital agency.
The league believes a more regional approach, even selling the rights directly to broadcasters or digital players in certain competitive markets, the likes of the UK, Spain, Germany, USA, Brazil, China and South Africa, will significantly boost the coffers. More obstacles certainly seem to have been placed in the way if MP & Silva wants to retain all international rights.
As Anna Guarnerio, director of TV and media rights, Infront Italy, explains: "This will be a very open tender, open to both agencies and broadcasters, traditional as well as digital and over-the-top. Rights are to be offered by geography, not by continent. We are rewriting geography a bit.
"There will be packages by geographies, but also packages for regions that are part of these geographies and packages for single countries too. Wherever the league believes there is the opportunity of a direct relationship with the market... there is the possibility for that country or region to bid separately."
Aside from outlining the packages on offer, the league has been keen to get across the message that is actively addressing the issue of low attendances in the top-flight.
Nothing turns broadcasters off quite like the sight of empty seats, and Serie A clubs are prone to having swathes of them, whereas LaLiga has been fining clubs if gaps are on show to television viewers.
The league is working closely with the clubs on policies to reduce ticket prices, and indeed promotional material handed to roadshow attendees highlighted: "Pictures of sold-out stadiums are more attractive on TV; therefore Lega Serie A is working to have the seats in front of the main camera always full. In addition discussions with the Italian government have begun in order to smooth the process of structural modernisation of Italian stadiums."
Marco Brunelli, director general of Lega Serie A, cites three areas where the league is working to improve the product: innovation in technology; on-field competitiveness; and stadium facilities.
"Next year we will be one of the few countries worldwide to have both goal-line technology and video assistant technology in place. They are tools to help the referees but also for improving the quality of the TV and broadcast product," he says.
"We are also committed to improving the sporting quality of our competitions. I'm confident that the gap between Juventus [champions six seasons in a row] and the rest will close.
"Finally, there will be improvement in our facilities. Next year for the first time we will have four teams in Serie A owning their own stadiums, as well as some renovation at the San Siro [in Milan] and Stadio Olimpico [in Rome]. This is absolutely needed to reduce the gap with the other leagues."
In a plea to prospective broadcast and agency partners, Brunelli told attendees at the London roadshow: "Trust us, you will not be disappointed."
Once the tender is out, interested parties will have until the first week of September to submit their bids to Infront.
After a costly, whistle-stop tour, it remains to be seen whether the old adage, ‘you have to speculate to accumulate’, pays off for Serie A.