Blow for Sky Italia and Serie A as internet rights ban reinstated

Sky Italia and sports rights-holders have been dealt a blow after Italy’s Council of State restored the restriction that bars the pay-television broadcaster from acquiring exclusive content rights over internet platforms until 2022.

Earlier this year, Sky won its appeal against the Italian antitrust authority’s decision to impose the restrictions on the pay-television broadcaster, which include rights to Italian football’s Serie A.

The regional administrative court (TAR) of Lazio reversed the AGCM ruling, which was made last May, following an appeal hearing on February 12.

However, Italy’s top administrative court has now reimposed the restrictions ahead of the Serie A’s sale of domestic broadcast rights from 2021-22 onwards.

Both Sky and sports rights-holders, notably Serie A, will be hit by the news. The broadcaster would have been more likely to bid aggressively for content it can showcase exclusively on its streaming services.

Sky holds the domestic Serie A rights jointly with subscription OTT platform DAZN in the current 2018-21 cycle for a total of €973m ($1.1bn) per season.

TAR’s decision to overturn the antitrust ruling had removed a key obstacle preventing Sky from bidding across all platforms for Serie A rights.

The original ruling was a condition of AGCM’s approval of Sky Italia’s agreement with commercial broadcaster Mediaset on the future of the latter’s DTT platform, R2.

At the time, the AGCM said the combination of Sky and the DTT platform had created “obvious” and “irreversible” anti-competitive effects, despite Mediaset retaining control of R2 after the regulator had declined to grant unconditional approval of the sale of the unit to Sky.

The launch of the Serie A rights auction had been planned for April but has been delayed because of the coronavirus crisis.

Serie A is currently engaged in exclusive negotiations with private equity company CVC Capital Partners over a reported €2.2bn investment proposal.

The offer includes an investment in a company set up to sell domestic broadcast rights, potentially over a ten-year period from the 2021-22 season onwards, along with managing the league’s international trademark and commercial development. CVC would also part-finance a new investment fund responsible for driving the stadium development, the Financial Times recently reported.

The forthcoming Serie A rights sales process also comes with media and production group Mediapro having bid to create a channel in a joint venture project with the league.

Mediapro’s offer of €1.28bn per season was lodged on November 4 last year. The clubs failed to reach an agreement on the offer at four league assemblies and negotiations then stalled as the two parties waited for a new president to be elected.