Italian clubs cross fingers over TV ruling

MILAN - Italian football could be thrown into chaos on Friday if a court case about television rights, the lifeblood of the sport, goes against the league and clubs.

Conto TV, a small satellite operator, has asked a Milan court to annul a deal between Sky Italia and Serie A for the television rights packages for matches for the next two seasons.

Conto tried to bid for matches and says the 1.149 billion euro agreement was made "without competition in the digital satellite sphere".

The Italian League has warned of dire consequences if Conto's legal action is successful, although most club presidents have said it is inconceivable the court would agree to a measure which could destroy team finances.

"We don't want to paint a catastrophic scenario but it is not difficult to imagine what could happen to football clubs, fans and an extremely important part of the nation's economy should Conto TV's appeal be upheld," a league statement said.

"The Serie A clubs would see their survival under threat."

Conto TV has been exploring legal avenues ever since July when Sky Italia, a unit of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, again won the rights to broadcast all Serie A matches.

ANTITRUST SATISFIED

One appeal court already blocked the deal in November but the league appealed and now another Milan court will hear the case on Friday with a decision expected within 10 days.

Italy's laborious legal system has dragged on so much that most fans were unaware of the potential threat but Italian media have suddenly reacted with outrage given there would be no time to renegotiate a new TV deal for next season if Conto TV wins.

Just like clubs across Europe, Italian sides rely on the huge investment from television companies and the very framework of the professional game would collapse if no money came through and players could not be paid or bought.

Italy's antitrust authority had launched a probe into the league's sale of TV soccer rights but ended its investigation in January saying it was satisfied with the league's future proposals.

That ruling is now under review in the courts.

The whole affair has left the league incredulous, even if the antitrust ruling offers it strong hope of victory.

"It is not normal that an operator (Conto TV) that has not shown any serious interest in bidding for the rights risks blocking the activity of football clubs and the whole of Italian football," the league statement continued.

In an unrelated move, the league is in the process of splitting into two so that the top tier Serie A and second division Serie B can manage their television and sponsorship deals individually.

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