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AP Interview: Serie A CEO ready for big TV rights fees drop

When Juventus considers whether or not to extend Cristiano Ronaldo’s massive contract, a drop in income from TV rights over the next three seasons could be a significant factor.

The coronavirus pandemic and the failure of Italian soccer teams to make an impact in European competition only partly explain the expected economic hit to Serie A when its international TV rights through 2024 are assigned Tuesday.

The league’s cozy relationship with Saudi Arabia — and the resulting withdrawal of Qatari-run beIN Sports from the auction process — could be an even bigger factor.

Napoli's Dries Mertens celebrates after scores against Roma during the Italian Serie A soccer match between Roma and Napoli at Rome's Olympic stadium, Sunday, March 21, 2021. (AP PhotoGregorio Borgia)

“It will definitely go down. A decent amount,” Serie A CEO Luigi De Siervo said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Ronaldo, who has a salary of 31 million euro ($37 million), has only one more season remaining on his contract and Juventus has been hesitant to propose an extension.

“Our biggest problem is beIN," De Siervo said. "BeIN was worth 50% of our package and they’ve decided not to take part in our auction. And they’ve prohibited all of their friends and intermediaries to make offers for their countries. So we’ve been ostracized by beIN, and that makes it very complicated and difficult for us.”

De Siervo did not identify who BeIN could have dissuaded from bidding, while BeIN said it remains open to continuing to show Italian games in countries like Australia.

In 2019, a FIFA-led investigation coordinated with Europe’s top leagues concluded that the Saudi Arabia-backed satellite company beoutQ was “without question” behind pirated match broadcasts that steals content from beIN Sports.

A year earlier, Serie A signed a deal with Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority to play three Italian Super Cups over five years in the country, the first two of which were held there despite protests over piracy as well as human rights concerns.

The Saudi deal provides more than 20 million euros (nearly $24 million) to Serie A and nearly 3.5 million euros (more than $4 million) to participating clubs.

While Serie A has made efforts to crack down on piracy, its continued dealings with Saudi Arabia have not appeased beIN.

When Serie A last assigned its international rights in 2017, it nearly doubled the value of the previous deal — earning 371 million euros (nearly $450 million) per season from IMG.

“The 371 number included technical costs, betting and the Italian Cup. The real value is 320 million (euros),” De Siervo said. “We’ve got to try and get as close as possible to 320 million.

“In certain parts of the world it’s very, very difficult in these times … Reaching the same number is impossible.”

A total of 49 offers came in for the international rights, featuring a mix of broadcasters wishing to acquire country-by-country rights directly and agencies that would act as intermediaries — Infront, IMG, Mediapro and Kosmos to name just a few. Then there are four more offers for rights in the Middle East, which are being handled separately.

De Siervo is proposing two options to the league’s 20 clubs. Either the league handles the offers itself country by country or the top agency proposal can take over the entire package.

“It comes down to whether we want to earn a bit less but control our own destiny and do it all internally, or gain a bit more and delegate others to handle it," he said.

The assignment of the international rights could coincide with a long-stalled decision over the league’s much more valuable domestic rights — which will feature an even bigger cut.

Streaming service Dazn has offered 840 million euros ($1 billion) per season for the domestic rights, while satellite provider Sky Italia — the longtime leader — has offered 750 million euros ($900 million). Both offers are less than the current domestic deal, which features a hybrid model with both Sky and Dazn worth 973 million euros ($1.15 billion).

Amid internal squabbling, Spanish league president Javier Tebas said it should be an easy choice for Dazn and streaming.

“The world of satellite TV had its moment but it’s no longer the model to build on,” Tebas told the Italian news agency ANSA. “You've got to understand the times we're living in.”

The impending cuts come with some Italian clubs still opposing signing off a on a 1.7 billion euro ($2 billion) offer from a consortium of private equity funds that would be charged with improving the sale and promotion of the league’s TV rights.

“If the funds were involved," De Siervo said, "they would have definitely pushed us to be more independent from the agencies.”

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Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf