Television has been for some decades an essential element in our lives, and its value in spreading the football phenomenon has been, and still is, very high. Even with the arrival of the Internet, this value has remained almost unchanged since the possibility of watching games on the web serves only as a means to support the real television service, which is still available for viewing online.
It is for this reason that one of the hottest issues for modern football is that of TV rights, which are considered as one of the keys to the success or decline of football in this or that country.
It is England that holds the record for the monetary value of both domestic and international TV rights. In fact, for the period 2016-2019, the Premier League will earn about 10 billion euro, of which 7 billion is only for domestic rights.
This is an amount of money, which, to put it mildly, leaves us speechless, and might be explained by various factors. On the one hand, the Premier League is without doubt the most competitive championship ever, where we find star players and coaches who are among the best in the world. On the other hand, we have to say that in England they have invested in building well-structured stadia, which are great to look at, accommodating and, above all, always full of passion thanks to the strong involvement of the English public.
However, if we look closely at the numbers, we immediately realise that the number of TV viewers who follow games on British TV channels (Sky and BT Sport) is not that high compared to other countries.
We then compared some big matches broadcast in Italy (a country where TV rights are worth almost one billion euro per annum) and England (the country with the richest TV rights in the world). The comparison between Italian matches in the last season such as Juventus-Inter Milan with over 4 million viewers or Juventus-AS Roma with over 3 million, and big English matches such as the Manchester derby with 1.7 million viewers or Liverpool-Manchester United with 2.8 million, showed that the wealth generated by TV rights is not so justified.
However, if the data on viewers is correct, and the number of Italian viewers is equal to (or sometimes even higher than) the number of English viewers, how is it possible that there is such a wide gap in value?
Maybe the answer must be sought in the set-up of the whole national football system. If England, with its 17 million subscribers – Sky (12 million) and BT Sport (5 million) – offers the public a championship which only stops in the summer and which every year is full of surprises thanks to the participation of clubs which are all perfectly capable of competing to win the title – something that always favours full stadia (which in their turn are filled with spectacular choreography), it is obvious that even the least qualified person in this field will have no hesitation in focusing on the success of the Premier League.
But if instead Italy, with its 6 million users – Sky (4 million) and Mediaset Premium (2 million) – offers a barely competitive championship in which the top places are more or less always occupied by the same clubs, and where, among other things, old and uncomfortable stadia with poor visibility are still in use – all factors which cause them to remain empty – it is normal that it is much more difficult for broadcasters to run risks. Also, if the results on TV (once all is said and done) are similar to those in England then it certainly won’t be a problem for them.
To this may be added the fact that, as reiterated a number of times, English football can find its greatest support in its TV rights distribution model, which ensures that in England, with regards to the Premier League, only 168 matches (140 distributed by Sky and 28 by BT Sport) are screened. On the other hand, the Italian model ensures that all the Serie A matches are broadcast throughout the country on Sky Italia and all the matches of 8 Italian teams – already included in the Sky package and therefore broadcast twice – are shown on Mediaset Premium.
And so, while the English model favours the filling of stadia by relying on fans’ desire not to miss a single match involving their team (accompanied by the fact that all English stadia are comfortable and innovative) the Italian model drives an increasing number of fans not to come to the stadium (which is already in itself uncomfortable and offers poor visibility). This is due to a failure to protect stadia and a lack of interest in building new facilities in Italy. Therefore, Italian fans will prefer to stay on the couch watching games, which – as they lack choreography and fans – will become less spectacular from a TV viewpoint accordingly.
Therefore, it can be said that the real difference between England and Italy, with regards to the value of TV rights, may mainly be found simply in the fact that the Lega Italiana, unlike the English League, has not managed to sell broadcasters an “Italian football” package, which, since it is not protected in any way, is extremely devalued.