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Serie A clubs opt against pulling signal from Sky in rights fee stand-off

The 20 clubs from Italian football’s top-tier Serie A have decided against withholding the signal from Sky Italia, the pay-television broadcaster and rights-holder, over an ongoing row over the payment of rights fees.

The outcome of Lega Serie A’s latest assembly meeting today (Monday) was that Sky would once again be ordered to settle its outstanding rights fees, but that Sky could continue to broadcast matches as per its rights agreement.

In a statement this afternoon, Lega Serie A said the clubs have “unanimously” sent a mandate to Romano Vaccarella, the league’s lawyer, to “reiterate to Sky the order to pay the instalment due in May in view of the injunction issued by the Court of Milan”.

However, the statement continued that the clubs have “decided not to suspend the execution of the licence agreement of the audiovisual rights despite the failure, by Sky, to pay the last instalment of the payment due”. This decision was made, the league said, to “protect and in full respect of fans, sponsors and all stakeholders”.

A July 12 payment deadline was thought to have been made by the league.

Milan’s civil court hit Sky Italia with an injunction a week ago after the appeal lodged by Lega Serie A over the missed rights fee payment by the broadcaster amid the Covid-19 shutdown. Lega Serie A took action over the non-payment by Sky of a €131m ($148.8m) instalment for the 2019-20 season by appealing to the Milanese court.

The injunction was not immediately enforceable with Sky given 40 days to pay or, if it chooses, oppose the ruling and initiate legal action against the league itself.

A total of 14 of the 20 top-tier Serie A clubs would have needed to vote for the broadcast signal to be withheld in order for it to come into effect. Some club presidents were thought to be pushing to withhold the signal as others sought reconciliation with the league’s main domestic rights-holder.

Lega Serie A also vowed today to continue the preparation work for the 2021-24 media-rights invitation to tender in the coming weeks.

Sky Italia had previously asked for a reduction in its fees for the 2019-20 season, equating to between 15 per cent and 18 per cent.

Sky and subscription OTT platform DAZN hold the live domestic rights to Serie A in deals worth €973m per season. Sky Italia pays the bulk of that fee with its contribution standing at €780m per season which give it the rights to seven out of the 10 weekly Serie A fixtures. DAZN pays €193.3m per season for the rights to the remaining three fixtures per week.

For its part, DAZN held payment negotiations with Serie A, as did the IMG agency, which holds international rights to the league. Both DAZN and IMG successfully reached accords with the league. Through the deals struck, the agency and OTT platform were both required to pay their first instalments by June 27 with the second due by July 20.

IMG’s international rights deal is worth about €380m per season for broadcast rights, club archive rights, betting rights, a marketing spend and fee for access to the broadcast signal.

Speaking in May ahead of the filing of the injunction as the deadlock in talks persisted, Sky Italia chief executive Maximo Ibarra said that he hoped it would “finally be the right occasion for representatives of Serie A clubs to take the proposal for dialogue that we have offered them for weeks”.

Serie A chief executive Luigi De Siervo gave the notion short shrift, saying that the broadcaster could not claim that amount if the season gets finished. He said: “We immediately made it clear that Sky’s request for a discount, in the event of the continuation of the championship, obviously could not be accepted, especially during such a tricky financial period for our teams.”

Serie A resumed on June 20 after the league’s shutdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.