TV boss denies he could kill Italian game

MILAN, May 17 (Reuters) - Marco Crispino sees himself as a champion of the underdog but does not believe his bite could really topple the might of Italian football.

Crispino is the head of small operator Conto TV, which has brought a case against the Italian football league over what he sees as the unfair sale of satellite television rights for the next two seasons.

A Milan judge heard the appeal on Friday and is taking as much as 10 days to decide if a 1.149 billion euros contract between the league and Sky Italia should be annulled.

The league and Serie A club presidents have predicted dire consequences for Italian football if the contract, the lifeblood of the sport, is suspended.

But Crispino reckons that if his company wins the case there would still be time to find a solution and let clubs have their money before next season's August 29 kick off.

"They are all free now, the championship has just finished," the talkative Crispino joked to Reuters, saying a new more open bidding process could be concluded quickly.

"It's possible to do it all in 10 days. They've known since July they could lose this case. Why does this mean we are destroying Italian football?"

The league has denied Conto TV's allegation that the sale of the rights was unfair. It has said that no laws were broken.

SUPERSTITIOUS PROVOCATION

Crispino, portrayed as a maverick in the Italian media, said at Friday's court hearing that his company would lose the case because it is small.

"The league think they are big and must win. When I said we would lose it was a superstitious provocation. I had my fingers crossed behind my back," he added.

"You can't say the law is equal for everyone but not the soccer league. They just have to sell the rights packages again and do more of them for new companies to take part."

Experts expect the league to win the case but believe Italian football finances are too dependent on television money, much like the rest of Europe.

"I don't believe the conditions exist to suspend the contract. But it's a weakness that Italian football is relying so much on the media," Giovanni Palazzi, president of Italy-based sports business consultancy Stage-Up, told Reuters.

Sean Hamil, lecturer at the Department of Management at Birkbeck College London, agreed the Italian game was over-reliant on TV money but backed the move to sell rights collectively rather than individually as Italian clubs used to do and Spanish teams still do.

"When you sell individually the league becomes a procession as the biggest clubs get the most money. It's also hard to attract sponsors if it is too predictable," he told Reuters.

Sky Italia, which has said it honours its contracts, is a unit of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.