Italy court backs Serie A in broadcast rights row with SKY - sources

MILAN (Reuters) - An Italian court has backed a petition filed by Italy’s top flight soccer league Serie A in a legal row with its broadcast rights holder SKY over the non-payment of an instalment during the COVID-19 pandemic, two sources said on Wednesday.

Serie A restarted in June after a three-month stoppage due to the health emergency but SKY, currently Serie A’s leading domestic rights holder, suspended a 130 million euro ($146.82 million) instalment relating to the 2019-20 season.

The sum is part of a 2.3 billion euro contract expiring next year.

Serie A rebuffed SKY’s request to renegotiate the agreement in light of the league’s hiatus.

While matches are played behind closed doors - meaning teams cannot benefit from ticket sales - SKY’s payment suspension has put clubs’ finances under pressure and prompted Serie A to take legal action in a bid to unblock the funds.

However, the Milan court did not issue an immediate payment order, the sources said, meaning Italy’s top pay-TV operator, owned by U.S. Comcast, can appeal the decision within 40 days.

According to one of the sources, that could boost chances the parties find a compromise over the case.

Broadcasting rights account for more than half of Serie A’s revenues and the business faces growing challenges due to the economic slump triggered by the pandemic, which could further increase the revenue gap with other top European leagues.

According to an annual report by consulting firm Deloitte, last season the Italian league raised 1.5 billion euros in revenues from broadcasting rights against the English Premier League’s 3.5 billion euros.

In a bid to get fresh resources and boost its vital media business, Serie A mandated Lazard last week to weigh private equity bids for an investment in a new company holding the league’s broadcast rights.

($1 = 0.8854 euros)

Reporting by Elvira Pollina; Editing by Christian Radnedge