Italian soccer in dire state as television weighs options

Sun Nov 17, 2013 12:37pm EST
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By Danilo Masoni and James Mackenzie

MILAN (Reuters) - When Italy's cash-strapped soccer clubs meet on Monday to prepare for a new deal on broadcast rights, their deliberations will be colored by the unhappy knowledge that Italian football is in a dismal state and viewers are switching off.

A farcical match in the third division this month, which saw a local derby near Naples abandoned after players were threatened by fans and faked injury to avoid playing, underlined the grim climate in the Italian game, beset for years by match-fixing scandals and stadium violence.

More seriously, from the broadcasters' point of view, the game's top level has fallen sharply since the glory days of the 1990s, when Serie A was a byword for footballing glamour and attracted the cream of the world's playing talent.

Italy's deep recession has hit spending on luxuries like television football subscriptions hard, but broadcasters have also been worried by a slide in matchday attendances and the now standard backdrop of empty seats in half-filled stadiums.

Swedish attacker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, perhaps the last genuine international star to play in Italy, moved to Qatar-backed Paris Saint Germain in 2012, and though in 2010 Inter Milan won the UEFA Champions League, a competition among Europe's top clubs, Italian clubs overall have slipped behind their rivals in Spain, Germany and England.

"The reality in Italy is that pay-TV is losing subscribers," Marco Giordani, chief financial officer of Mediaset, Italy's biggest private broadcaster told financial market analysts this month.

"Consumer spending is declining, disposable income is declining, the UEFA ranking of the Italian team is declining, the number of teams participating in the European competition is declining, top players are leaving Italy," he said.

It is in this downbeat climate that the clubs are preparing to appoint an agent to negotiate next year with the television companies for a new deal for the rights to broadcast matches, which are shared between clubs and form well over half of their annual income.   Continued...