“The love of money is the root of all evil” – 1 Timothy 6:10
A well-known saying that has never been more appropriate to the world of football – an industry where money is power, and those who have it do not want to lose it. As with any pyramid, the people at the top are king, and the football pyramid is no different. They have the money, and subsequently the power, and there is no better demonstration of this than Calcio, with the breakaway of Serie A clubs from the Lega Calcio.
Make no mistake, money is the sole reason for the decision to form an independent top-tier of Italian football, regardless of the spin so often fed to the media about making Italian clubs competitive in Europe once again. The primary source of money for Serie A clubs is their individual TV deals and the income they generate. In Italy, as in Spain, clubs are designated the responsibility of selling their package of live matches individually to TV companies (Serie A highlights and Coppa Italia matches are sold collectively by the Lega Calcio, but the revenue gained from this is a pittance in comparison to the individual deals). In England, the opposite is true – the Premier League owns the TV rights to the live matches of their members (the 20 clubs), and they sell these as a collective package. The breakaway saga centres on government legislation that was passed in 2007, stating that TV rights for live Serie A matches will be sold collectively by the Lega Calcio from the 2010/11 season – a move that will see Italy sell their TV rights in a similar fashion to the Premier League.
Pre-2007, there was a ‘split’ in opinion amongst the 42 Lega Calcio members (the 20 teams of Serie A, and the 22 of Serie B) regarding the sale of TV rights for Italy’s top division. A group of Serie A clubs, led by the then Fiorentina President Diego Della Valle, started a campaign within the Lega Calcio (it must be noted that this was not a campaign to the government) for a change to collective selling, arguing that the current system of individual marketing resulted in a massively unequal distribution of TV money from the major TV companies – whose primary interest was securing rights to show games involving the big three clubs (Milan, Juventus, Inter), before mopping up the rest of the league at a later date, with each club receiving a sum considerably less than that paid out to the aforementioned trio. Naturally, the Milanese giants and Juventus opposed such a move, knowing that their own level of income from domestic broadcasting sources would be reduced with a system that ensured a more equal distribution (Juventus’ deal with Mediaset, signed in 2006, was worth €109m per season – before they took up the option to extend that for the 2009/10 season, worth €112m).
Unfortunately for Della Valle and his group, when the idea was put to a vote to clubs within the Lega Calcio, the 22 Serie B clubs each threw their weight behind the powerful trio. Why? Because €65m from TV revenues (it was €95m up until 2008/09) earned by the Serie A clubs via their individual deals was distributed each season to Serie B and Lega Pro teams – a figure that was agreed by all parties in conjunction with the Lega Calcio. Each club’s contribution to this total was proportional to the size of their TV deal. As the biggest earners of TV money, the big three were the largest contributors to this sum, contributors that the 22 Serie B clubs were unwilling to lose to a collective ownership system that would see them, as well as the trio they backed, suffer from reduced income.
So while Milan, Juventus and Inter were happy with their huge TV deals, and Serie B clubs were content with the sums being passed down from the top, the rest of Serie A had to make do with comparatively paltry levels of income from TV companies, income that they did not know would arrive until deals for the big clubs were signed, sealed and delivered. This meant the majority of teams at the top level of Calcio did not know their financial situation for the coming season until late in the day, leaving them in limbo when it came to the mercato.
Matchday income was (and still is) a poor source for Serie A clubs – even the big three – largely thanks to local councils owning stadia and thus pocketing a large proportion of monies earned on matchday. Away teams are also entitled to 18% of the revenue earned – a figure that actually becomes rather redundant when you factor in the low attendances at Serie A games affecting this avenue of income. The small and medium sized teams (essentially those pushing for collective sale of TV rights) could not even rely on their away game against one of the trio for a financial boost, as the big clubs generally only sell-out their games against the other big clubs. Inter managed to generate €1.1m per home game last season – an average figure that will include the sell-out games. It leaves teams visiting a big club the prospect of around €198,000, if they are lucky – a sum that only just kept some afloat. Proof, as if it were needed, that the government’s intervention in 2007 was timely for these mid-to-small sized teams.