Back in August I wrote an article that looked at the ever-changing footballing landscape in England and how this effected the demand for, and availability of, broadcasting Italian Football onto UK screens. What was interesting was that there was a clear blueprint and you could see why back in the early 90s why the Italian game was popular over here and Channel 4’s Football Italia was able to draw in large viewing audiences. The rather depressing matter was that the landscape changed dramatically as Serie A and the Premiership/Premier League moved through into the 21st century. Football rights had become a lot more complex with there now being a lot more money in the game and a lot more choice for the game’s target audience. The combination of these factors placed a greater risk on the TV broadcasters, especially those that tried to differentiate themselves from Sky and offer something other than English football.
I don’t believe Sky were the only people to see the potential of broadcasting Premier League and Football League games to capture an attractive demographic audience group. However Sky was the group prepared to take on the huge financial risk and by doing so have developed a lucrative monopoly. Other Broadcasters like Eurosport, Channel 4, ITV, Five and co. simply cannot compete with Sky for the English rights, instead having to look elsewhere to offer something different for the huge footballing public.
Monopolies are normally considered a bad thing but ask many people and they will probably tell you they are unhappy with how fragmented the TV rights have become in this country and that Sky has done a decent job with coverage of English football. They probably wouldn’t mind if Sky owned 100% of the English League & Cup and Champions League rights in this country. Whilst Sky has done wonders for coverage of the English game, their power that initially forced creativity from other broadcasters to bid for football rights from other countries, has now put an insurmountable pressure on those same broadcasters to deliver results in the form of viewing numbers and advertising revenues to the point that long term coverage of any league, but particularly in this context coverage of Italian football, was now implausible. Indeed we had witnessed the rise and fall of Calcio on UK screens in the space of less than 20 years.
Sky’s Premiership risk paid off and passed the pressure on to, at the time, Channel 4 who after 10 years of hosting Football Italia could no longer justify purchasing the rights to Serie A. Falling viewing figures meant that the program could not be profitable. Since then the rights have been passed to Eurosport, Bravo, Setanta and Five, none of which have held them for any significant length of time, all stating similar reasons that they could not find a profitable formula on which to broadcast live matches. Ultimately this lead to the current situation of a season without a live TV broadcaster of Calcio in the UK after Five did not renew their rights package and shelved Football Italiano over the summer of 2008. Sadly the risk has been too great and the majority of broadcasters to the UK that have an interest in showing football, the Serie A rights have developed a somewhat tarnished reputation. Something had to change or Calcio on our screens will have died a slow and painful death.
Setanta had hoped to have rights to this current season and even went as far as announcing that Calcio would soon be back on our screens. However football365.com’s online streaming of matches for free put a spanner in the works and it was felt that, despite the vastly inferior quality of football 365’s coverage, this would still eat up valuable market share. This looked to be the final nail in the coffin for coverage on our television screen.
One approach would be to change the business model and to change that screen. A move away from traditional broadcasting to an “on demand” service online would reduce the costs involved and provide an alternative source of revenue through subscriptions to the service either annually, monthly or game by game. This could easily be complemented through additional online content. This is the model that SerieA.tv tried, but was unsuccessful with. However in recent months Omnisport.tv have purchased online rights to Serie A and added it to an already impressive online portfolio that covers a wide range of sports available to a larger number of countries.
If the business model does not change then something in the Italian game itself must and it must be big – big enough to draw larger audiences, bring the older viewers back and make a very attractive prospect to those original broadcasters that have turned their back on Serie A.
2010 will see rights reformatted in Serie A back to the league, hopefully seeing an end to the individual bargaining rights of clubs making broadcasters’ lives a misery. Couple this with the catalyst thought to launch Calcio back onto a level with that of La Liga and it could be back on our screens sooner than expected.
Sunday saw a new broadcaster enter the frame with the BBC showing live coverage of the Derby della Madonnina – possibly the biggest club match in world football. Alone with the unique kick-off time and hype surrounding this match the BBC could attract a reasonable audience. Perhaps the game – with half time highlights of the Juventus-Sampdoria clash – was taken on by the BBC with potential, ambitious plans of entering the fray for rights should they be deemed plausible.
When British broadcasters do decide to take that leap and bid for the Italian rights, there is one ingredient this time round that spark of an explosion of Calcio followers and a bidding war for next season TV rights. Even if BBC does not want to bid for the rights next season (they have recently lost FA Cup and England games to rivals), Five and all the other broadcasters out there will be keeping a close eye on this weekend’s viewing figures. As was the case in 1992 with Paul Gascoigne joining Lazio, David Beckham’s move to Milan has re-ignited mainstream British interest in Serie A. He is marketer’s dream and attracts huge interest wherever he goes, with his short stint with the Rossoneri no different.
In the modern day, the Italian game has lacked an English presence since Paul Ince left Inter in 1997. Beckham is added that ingredient back in the Calcio mix and we could see a few more English stars follow him. Remember he was not alone at Madrid, with Michael Owen and Jonathan Woodgate shortly joining him out there. Shirts fly off the wall at whatever club he is at. His move to LA Galaxy certainly raised the profile of the MLS and brought about the incarnation of Five’s own program dedicated to Beckham and the MLS. David Beckham’s Soccer USA shows just how influential he is. To have a highlights program from a league considered by many to be substandard compared to the majority of Europe’s top league is amazing. From absolutely nowhere it reached terrestrial Television. Beckham could well be the missing piece of the formula and its definitely plausible that he could be responsible for attracting new fans to the Italian game. He did for the US game so just imagine what he can do for a Top Three league in Europe. Last Sunday’s meeting coupled with the number of Milan shirts sold in this country will be a good indication of the potential Beckham holds and can bring to a club and a league.
Calcio in the UK’s future may well rest at the feet of Englishman David Beckham and if he can secure a permanent move to the peninsula. Should Galaxy and Milan fail to agree a transfer, the sad truth is that we may not see Calcio on British screens for a long time yet.