EXCLUSIVE: Pitch battles Sky Italia for Premier League rights in Italy as MP & Silva deal is confirmed

The Pitch International agency has bid for Premier League rights in Italy for the next three seasons, from 2013-14 to 2015-16, TV Sports Markets understands. With second-round bids due this afternoon (Thursday), it is now a head-to-head battle between Pitch and the incumbent rights-holder Sky Italia.

Pitch looks to be taking a risk, as there appears to be only one broadcast buyer in the market: Sky. The pay-television broadcaster, owned by News Corporation, has broadcast the league since 2003.

To win the rights, Pitch would have to pay more than Sky’s valuation of them. Then the agency would have to persuade Sky to pay it more than the broadcaster was prepared to pay the league. Sky’s main pay-television rival Mediaset Premium is not thought to have bid in the first round.

Sky has made cuts in its sports-rights investments and has recently dropped football properties such as the German Bundesliga, Spain’s La Liga and the English Football Association rights. No other broadcaster has taken up these rights in Italy.

An alternative scenario – and one which would make the bid less of a gamble – is that Pitch believes, or knows, that a new player is set to enter the country’s pay-television market.

Mediaset has been looking for fresh investment for its pay-television platform for many months and there has been speculation that Qatari pay-television operator Al Jazeera may either take a stake or buy out the whole platform, to extend its burgeoning European pay-television empire beyond France. Pitch has a close working relationship with Al Jazeera.

In other news, it has been confirmed that the MP & Silva agency has acquired the next cycle of Premier League rights in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region – a deal that was first reported by TV Sports Markets on January 22.

The deal comprises 380 games per season for the next three years, from 2013-14 to 2015-16, and covers a region that consists of 23 individual territories.

MP & Silva will be the exclusive distributor of the league’s broadcast, mobile and digital rights in Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Algeria, Chad, Libya, Morocco, Somalia, Tunisia, Egypt and Djibouti.

“With this new addition, MP & Silva is now partnering with the Premier League in 40 countries across Asia, Pacific and MENA,” the agency’s chief executive, Andrea Radrizzani, said.