Two-week delay to Italian season as clubs dig in heels

By Scott Dougal,Cindy Garcia-Bennett
Tuesday 17 December 2013 04:16
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Italian league president Adriano Galliani yesterday insisted the government have a responsibility to help the country's football clubs in their television dispute because of the tax revenues earned from the game.

Galliani was speaking after the Italian league authorities (Lega Calcio) agreed to postpone the start of the Serie A and Serie B seasons after negotiations over television rights stalled.

The delay is likely to increase financial worries in a league which has already seen one club – Fiorentina – go to the wall this summer.

The Lega Calcio want to ease the burden by spreading the club's tax payments over a longer period and will ask the Italian FA (FIGC) to plead their case with the government.

"We are asking the state to help us out of this situation without any favouritism, but only, for example, helping us to regain a tax competitiveness regarding our European competitors," said Juventus representative Antonio Giraudo. The move is likely to lead to protests against one of the richest competitions in world football going cap in hand to the tax–payer.

But Galliani, who as vice–president of AC Milan – the club run by Italian president and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi – is a man with some influence in government circles, sought to pre–empt the criticism.

"In the past days I have not heard any politicians say a thing, that is the state that should be grateful to football and not vice versa," he said. "If a footballer drives Ferrari, half of the Ferrari goes to the state. No–one has pointed out that if we decrease the players' contracts we also decrease the tax revenue and thus, the state has to be grateful."

The decision to postpone the start of the season was taken following a failure to reach an agreement with state broadcaster RAI over a highlights package and the refusal of eight Serie A clubs and 13 Serie B sides to sign a deal with subscription television station Telepiu.

Lega Calcio have rejected the £28.8million on offer from RAI for match highlights as it is around 40% less than last season's deal which also included some Coppa Italia matches.

However, Galliani – set to meet with RAIsport director Paolo Francia this evening – does not anticipate that anyone else will succeed where the state broadcaster has failed. "My prediction is that either it is sold to RAI or the championship will begin without public television images," he said.

The problem has been exacerbated by the refusal of some of the clubs to accept the individual deals offered by Telepiu for live broadcast rights.

The eight Serie A sides – Atalanta, Brescia, Perugia, Chievo, Como, Empoli, Modena and Piacenza – are unhappy with the £3.3million offered to each of them by the subscription broadcaster. By contrast, champions Juventus, the top earners, will get £34.6million.

In a bid to solve the problem the league had agreed to help the eight plus three of the Serie B sides – Venezia, Vicenza and Verona – form a consortium to negotiate jointly with Telepiu.

It is a move which Galliani believes could lead to the league setting up their own television company, thereby earning money straight from the viewers. "Lega Calcio sees with good eyes the creation of a television platform in the consortium," said Galliani. "In future, it could be the start of Lega TV, even if now it is the ownership of just 11 clubs that has formed it."

The season was due to start on August 31 but will now kick–off two weekends later with a full Serie B programme and two matches from Serie A, Como v Empoli and Modena v AC Milan.

This is the first occasion in peace time that the league season has been postponed but Galliani remains optimistic. "This day has been very, very positive for Italian football," he said. "All that we have decided, we have decided unanimously, Italian football comes out reinforced after this meeting."

However, if the clubs needed any reminder of the risks they are running following the collapse of Fiorentina they need only look at Lazio.

The Roman club – champions as recently as 2000 – today saw the signings of Massimo Oddo and Chievo midfielders Eriberto and Christian Manfredini annulled because of their failure to pay even 30% of the amount owed to the selling clubs.

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