Friday, March 14, 2008

Italian Soccer: Now Featuring Slightly More Fascists as well as Lawsuits

Only football could set up such a delicious grudge match between such reviled individuals.

In this corner, we have Rupert Murdoch, the veritable Citizen Kane of our time, owner of various media corporations, including Sky Italia.

And in this corner, we have the increasingly right-wing, corrupt owners of Italian football clubs, including right-wing, corrupt AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi.

Who will win? And why should we care?

To be exact, the fight is over the television rights for Italian football matches. According to Variety:

"The Italian government passed legislation last year stipulating that soccer rights must be sold collectively rather than individually, team by team, in order to give smaller clubs a bigger piece of the pie. The new Italo rules are meant to go into effect in 2010."

Sky Italia's complaint is over "the way the law is drafted contains elements that raise concerns regarding competition and a fair rights auction."

While just about every sports league in the world is permitted to negotiate television rights collectively, you needn't be a political scientist or historian to see what the problem would be. The Italian government is still very much controlled by Berlusconi (who has a decent shot at being re-elected Prime Minister in April), and the legislation apparently has a fair number of provisions that arguably favor ownership and are "anti-competitive." As a result, Sky Italia has brought a lawsuit in the European Commission. There are some fine print legal issues here that would maybe, maybe interest a European antitrust lawyer, but let's cut to the chase....

For everyone else, it is merely the delicious irony of Murdoch versus Berlusconi. We can only hope that this lawsuit drags on and on in the European Commission (which doesn't usually deliver the swiftest justice), costing billions of lira and euros, consuming vast amounts of time and energy, and eventually destroys both empires.

Sadly, that probably won't be case, as these little skirmishes are instead fairly common and mundane. So, at best you can expect an EC ruling saying that the legislation is or isn't fair, maybe suggesting a few changes, and in the meantime Murdoch and Berlusconi will continue on their merry way, raping and pillaging as they go. For the rest of us plebes, well, at least we'll be able to watch some football matches on TV. Too bad it'll be Italian football. Couldn't pay me to watch that crap.

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