The 'Soccergate' scandal, which erupted following a wire-tapping investigation of many of the key figures in Italian football, finally resulted in the relegation of Juventus football club from Serie A, the top division, to Serie B. Juventus will also start next season with a 17-point handicap (but its lawyers are at work to obtain a weaker sanction). AC Milan, Lazio and Fiorentina will play in Serie A next season - and in the Champions League, in the case of AC Milan - but will start the domestic league campaign with deductions of eight, 11 and 19 points respectively. However, this decision by the appellate body of the Italian Football Federation considerably reduces the penalties originally imposed by the court of first instance.
Many consider Soccergate to have had a lesser impact on Italian football than was originally expected. However, its impact on Tv rights has been much broader and deeper. Following the first news of the scandal, supporters of collective rights management revived their case and began arguing its benefits with renewed force.
The legal framework for televised football rights was established by Law 78/1999, whereby each Serie A team owns the pay-television rights to its home matches, increasing the economic power of the most important teams, such as Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Roma, whose matches are the most valuable. Most of the less prestigious teams dislike this system which, they argue, deprives them of a fair share of the rights revenues. Smaller teams have generally argued that it would be fairer for television rights to be collectively managed, with revenues distributed among all teams, while still taking into account each team's prestige and successes.
Supporters of such a system recently scored a major victory when, in keeping with the wishes of the smaller and hitherto less influential teams, the government indicated its intention to switch back to the collective management of television rights. On July 21 2006 the Council of Ministers approved a bill on televised soccer rights to be brought before Parliament. If the bill is passed, the government will aim to enact new rules for the management of television rights and the sharing of revenues from the sale of such rights within the next six months.
The main principles which would regulate collective rights management under the proposed system are as follows:
- Television rights to the football championship would belong to the organizer of the event and the teams involved in the competition, while the rights to old games, known as 'warehouse rights', would be owned by each team.
- The sale of television rights to each media platform would be centralized and the maximum duration of the relevant contracts would be determined by law. The terms of the deals would be required to meet the aim of granting exploitation of the rights to more than one operator. Sub-licensing would not be permitted; each operator would be permitted to buy only the rights for the communication platform or platforms which it manages.
- At least 50% of the revenues would be shared equally among the teams, with the remainder being allocated to the organizer of the championship, which would allocate further sums to the teams based on their audiences and their final position in the championship. A small percentage would be used to fund sports other than football.
- The antitrust and communications regulators would be in charge of enforcing and monitoring compliance with the new rules.
Of Europe's five most influential football-playing countries - England, France, Germany, Spain and Italy - only the last two allow teams to manage their own television rights. The purpose of the government's bill is to implement a more equal system in the football championship and the television market. It remains to be seen whether greater solidarity between the teams will be mirrored by fairer competition.
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