Lega Serie A in new conflict over fan base assessment

Last Friday, a meeting of the Lega Serie A and its 20 members produced the dates for the start of next season – the weekend of 27/28 August. However, one outcome of this meeting not so widely reported was the proposal put forward by 15 of the 20 clubs to find a new method of deciding how a club’s fan base is assessed.
With such an overwhelming majority, the proposal was passed. The five clubs that were not in favour were, unsurprisingly, the five big teams of Serie A – Milan, Inter, Juventus, Roma and Napoli. Unsurprising in as much as the idea of changing how a club’s fan base is assessed is all to do with money.
The TV rights deal with Sky Italia, worth €574.5m per season, is split in a rather complicated way. 40% is divided equally among the 20 clubs, 30% is based on past results, 5% on the population of the club’s city and 25% based on number of fans. It is the latter percentage that is important here, as the assessment of a club’s fan base decides how big a chunk of that 25% (€143.6m) each club receives.
The argument put forward by the majority 15 surrounds the definition of a ‘supporter’, as stated in the Melandri Law (the law passed in 2007 that saw TV rights sales move from individual to collective), and instances of a ‘doppio tifoso’, or ‘double fan’.
Essentially, this is a fan that lives in one city (Cagliari, for example), supports a team based elsewhere (Juventus), but also likes the club closest to where they live. In this scenario, the 15 clubs in favour argue that this individual is a fan of both teams, and should be accounted for when it comes to determining a club’s fan base. As such, they have appointed three research agencies to gather data on supporter followings.
The big clubs are unhappy with this, knowing that the new assessment of fan base, particularly the one put forward by the other 15 teams, will see their slice of the 25% diminish as the number of ‘fans’ for the other Serie A clubs will rise. Having the most number of supporters anyway, the big five already stood to gain the most from this particular apportioning of cash and clearly do not want to see that change. As such, they have appealed the decision.
The real issue lies with the decision to apportion a percentage of the TV rights based on supporters, regardless of how this is defined. It was always going to favour the larger clubs in the larger cities, and the revolt from those who will not benefit to the same degree is somewhat inevitable.
The likely outcome is a greater spread of the cash, which can only be healthy for a league looking to reduce the huge inequalities that existed under individual selling of TV rights. An arguably better system would be to change altogether the method of dividing that 25% between the Serie A teams, but with the plan of the majority 15 set in motion, and a determination to score a victory over the traditional powers of Italian football, that is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

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