The Italian regime for the assignment of audiovisual rights on sports events could dramatically change in the next future.

Indeed, on 18 July 2016 a bill aimed at revising the currently-in-force regulatory framework on the ownership and sale of sports-related broadcasting rights has been assigned to the Commission of Culture of the Italian Deputy Chamber (Camera dei Deputati).

The currently applicable regulatory framework on the selling of audiovisual rights on sports events.

The Italian regulatory framework on the subject matter is set forth under the Legislative Decree 9 January 2008, no. 9 – so called Legge Melandri.

The Decree was adopted with the purpose of ensuring the transparency and efficiency of the broadcasting rights market and favoring competition as a result of very troubled seasons for the Italian Serie A, which saw the involvement of representatives of top clubs, referees and prominent members of the football establishment in numerous criminal and disciplinary proceedings.

To this end, the Decree introduced the system of centralized commercialization of the TV rights through the Italian Football League; as a consequence, the selling of such rights by each and every clubs is voided. Actually – as stated in the bill’s Whereas – the system implemented by the Decree did not lead to an effective competition in the relevant markets.

In connection to the above, see our previous article on the decision of the Italian Competition Authority concerning the allocation of Serie A TV rights to Sky and RTI/Mediaset Premium for 2015-2018, hugely fined for agreements impairing competition.

The main proposed amendments.

The need for a change so as to favor the competitive dynamism and enable new players (even native-digital players) to access the market is the aim of the bill, endorsed by the majority in Parliament.

In a nutshell, the main amendments to the Decree arising from the bill are as follows:

  1. New business opportunities for all players and newcomers. As stated in the bill, “until now solely those companies holding satellite or DTT distribution platforms (Sky, Rai, Mediaset) (…) have been granted withaudiovisual rights on sports events” and could “transmit Football League matches(…) Therefore, it is important to facilitate publishers, that do not hold any transmission capacity by intervening, for instance, on “must carry” obligations, which require the operator to carry the other content providers’ television channels. For these purposes, the bill extends the right to access to third parties platforms at fair, transparent, non-discriminatory and costs-oriented conditions to any operator, including newspaper publishers, foreign television groups, as well as content aggregators, such as Google, Apple or Facebook, even if they do not hold a broadcasting authorization. If necessary and in any event, said authorizations may be obtained within 6 months from the tender for the allocation of the relevant audiovisual rights. This would reduce entry barriers for native-digital operators, also in the light of the regulatory framework set out for on-demand audiovisual media services providers and web-based (linear) TV, which are granted with a favorable administrative regime.
  2. Role of the Advisor. In order to ensure more transparency to the system, the Advisor, e.the person / entity acting on behalf of the competition’s organizer as a strategic and operational advisor for the sale of audiovisual sports rights, shall not (i) play the same role for two different organizers of the competition; and (ii) market archive and/or sponsorship rights with clubs, while playing the role of advisor. Please note that the bill is open to the participation of new organizers for the relevant tender procedures. The exclusive rights of the Italian Football League could be questionable.
  3. Broadcasting of live matches free-to-air. The bill contains a proposal aimed at periodically broadcast live sports events on free television. As stated in the bill – comparing the internal allocation of TV rights to those pertaining to UEFA regarding Champions League- “the simultaneous broadcasting on free television of the matches would have a strong promotional function for image of national football”. Moreover, it would favor competition.

The bill is now to be discussed in the Commission and, afterwards, to be approved by the Italian Deputy Chamber. We will keep you updated on the following developments.