The Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) has recently opened an investigation against the companies Sky Italy, RTI-Mediaset, Infront Italy and the Serie A National Football League (the “Football League”) in order to verify the existence of alleged “allocation agreements” between Sky and Mediaset on the television rights of the 2015 - 2018 seasons.
Last year when the Football League auctioned the broadcasting rights relating to Serie A’s next three seasons, it divided the offer into five packages:
- The exclusive right to broadcast on a satellite platform the matches of the eight leading teams (“Package A”);
- The equivalent exclusive right to broadcast on digital terrestrial (“Package B”);
- The exclusive right to broadcast interviews before and after the matches and pictures from the locker room (“Package C”);
- The exclusive right to broadcast all live matches excluded from the first two packages (“Package D”); and
- The exclusive right to broadcast a few matches on the Internet (“Package E”).
At the end of the tender procedure, Sky should have been entitled to matches contained in Packages A and B on satellite platforms and digital terrestrial, respectively, for which it submitted the best bids, while Mediaset – offering the best bid for Package D – should have been entitled to broadcasting the remaining games on all platforms. However, three weeks of discussions led the Football League to make a different choice, assigning: (i) only the satellite Package A to Sky; (ii) the digital terrestrial Package B to Mediaset (despite the fact that its offer was nearly €150 million lower than the Sky offer); and (iii) the Package D to RTI, which in turn transferred this Package on to Sky. This bid result reshuffling is currently under the scrutiny of the AGCM. In particular, the AGCM has pointed to a possible violation of Article 101 TFEU, which may be aimed at conditioning and altering the outcome of the competitive bid, while also foreclosing potential new entrants in the relevant market.
The proceedings have started with dawn raids by the AGCM, accompanied by the tax police, and are expected to continue until its envisaged deadline, currently set for 30 May 2016.
Agreements for the broadcasting of football rights, and packaged deals, have been under the EU Commission’s radar since early 2000. In that respect, for instance, we refer to the 2003 antitrust investigation that among others cleared UEFA’s policy regarding the sale of the media rights to the Champions League. Also in that case, the competition authority was concerned that football rights would be sufficiently spread in order to promote the largest possible broadcasting, including expansion of different and new media and technologies and entry of new competing broadcasters. Needless to say that pay-TV and football rights continue to be under the target of national and EU authorities, including towards the development of a single Pan-EU digital and media market.