Owners need cash to buy players, but UK and Spanish Leagues are already in the US market.

Italy’s premier soccer league, Serie A, has launched a massive publicity effort to boost viewership of its games in the United States, as the league looks increasingly to foreign television sales to boost its financial fortunes, as Peter Green reports.

Last year, CBS acquired the league’s broadcast rights in a three-year deal worth 64 million euros per season (about $75 million at the time), according to Niccolo Luci, the league’s head of business development.

The network’s acquisition of Serie A was “both savvy and opportunistic,” the Athletic wrote, citing changes in the way Italians play “calcio,” their term for soccer, that will make the games more marketable.

“Once maligned as overly defensive and boring, the style of Italian football has gradually become more modern,” the Athletic wrote. “Old school tactics have been replaced by new attacking ideologies that led to close to three goals per game during the 2021-22 season.”

With more than half a billion fans globally, Serie A is a global phenomenon, and some 34.3 million of those fans live in the US, opening a global opportunity for the league to market its games and add-ons, including merchandise and tv shows, to the U.S., said Luci. In fact, only 33 million Italians are considered soccer fans, which means more than 90 percent of Italian soccer’s fan base is abroad.

And of the 20 teams in the league, seven are owned by Americans, one by a Canadian, and one by a Chinese appliance maker. Rocco Commisso, the Bronx-raised owner of ACF Fiorentina, said he’s been pushing for a stronger U.S. presence for the league since he bought Fiorentina in 2019. 

“We’ve got our work cut out for us, we’ve got to make sure the brand is recognized,” said Commisso, who owns a cable tv company in the US. “We need to make Serie A become ‘must-watch’ tv for US sports fans.”

The league is a cooperative owned largely by the team owners.

Serie A faces tough competition in the US. Britain’s Premier League, with world-famous teams Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United, sold its US television rights for $485 million, and Spain’s La Liga, which includes Real Madrid and Barcelona solds it US rights for $175 million. The U.S.-based Major Soccer League, MSL, recently closed a 3-seasons deal for $90 million, and Commisso says he believes Serie A can beat that with more viewers soon.

At a gala event at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, a crowd of slim-suited Italian businessmen mixed with television executives, American marketers and a handful of Italy’s most famous footballers. 

Alessandro Nesta, a defender for Lazio and AC Milan in the early 2000s, and a key member of Italy’s winning 2006 World Cup team, explained that Italian teams no longer have the cash to buy top players. Of the 20 most expensive European transfers of all time, only two transactions involved Italian clubs.

“Serie A needs money from outside Italy,” said Nesta, who now lives in Miami and said he is taking the year off. “The owners need money for the clubs to buy players.”

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