Italian state TV seals Serie A deal

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While football followers in Britain increasingly see television coverage of sport slip out of the BBC's control, Italy yesterday came up with a compromise to suit its viewers.

The media magnate and owner of Serie A club Fiorentina, Vittorio Cecchi Gori, relinquished the rights to broadcast Italian football three weeks after snatching them from the state-run RAI in a deal that will still secure him a lucrative share.

The move, a face-saving formula for both sides, allows RAI to take over the football rights but to cede parts of the package to Cecchi Gori. RAI will remain in charge of the football which it would otherwise have lost, while Cecchi Gori will broadcast some matches on his TeleMonteCarlo station without having to pay for the whole lot.

"Cecchi Gori has got what he wanted: namely, a good part of the football transmissions," Marco Taradash, the chairman of the broadcasting commission in parliament, said.

In a move reminiscent of the BBC's stand against Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB, RAI had complained about being left without any football coverage, saying the sport was a national institution in Italy and a public service broadcaster could not be excluded.

Cecchi Gori, whose TV network is dwarfed by RAI and the channels owned by the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's Fininvest empire, outbid both to win exclusive radio and unencrypted TV rights.

The league accepted Cecchi Gori's bid of 213.5bn lire (pounds 94m) for each of the coming three seasons against the 185bn offered by RAI and 170bn by Berlusconi. RAI, faced with the prospect of losing the football rights for the first time, cried foul. The chairwoman, Letizia Moratti, refused to do a deal with Cecchi Gori. His TV stations do not cover all of Italy and he has no radio outlets. Media analysts were also wondering where Cecchi Gori's group, with debts of 125bn lire, would find the cash to back his offer.

RAI's board was due to meet yesterday before a final agreement was signed at the football federation following marathon talks. Reports said RAI was still offering 185bn lire while Cecchi Gori would pay 68bn for rights to the Italian Cup, foreign rights to the Super Cup and rights to the recorded broadcast of one Serie A match.