Serie A Soccer Rights Deal in China Is Halted

Matches from Italian soccer league Serie A are currently not showing in China on PP Sports, the Chinese licensee. The move reportedly follows the non-payment of fees to rights agency IMG.

PP Sports is part of streaming platform PPTV, which is owned by retail giant Suning. The company also owns a majority stake in Italian soccer club F.C. Inter Milan. The high-profile match on Friday between Inter Milan and Fiorentina was not shown. PP told viewers that there was a “signal transmission problem.”

IMG took over the rights from rival agency M&P Silva in 2017, with the worldwide deal reportedly costing it EUR380 million ($456 million) per season. The deal with PPTV is reported to be valued at $15 million per season.

It is not yet clear whether the IMG-PPTV deal can be resuscitated or whether it will be scrapped.
Last year the English Premiere League scrapped its three-year deal, reportedly worth a much larger $233 million per season, with PPTV after the Chinese partner failed to keep up to date with payments. The EPL has begun legal proceedings to recover back payments. PPTV is counter-suing.

The EPL subsequently struck a deal with Tencent Video for coverage of the remainder of the 2020-21 season.

Some Serie A matches will continue to be screened in China, as state-owned broadcaster China Central Television has some rights.

Separately, Suning is understood to be seeking to raise upwards of $200 million of emergency funding for Inter Milan. The club’s finances have been battered by the economic impact of the coronavirus.
Soccer in China has been a roller coaster for many. The country’s president Xi Jinping designated the sport as an area that he was keen to grow, both at club level and at national level. Many sources had expected China to make a bid to host the World Cup.

Xi’s interest sparked a rush of investment by Chinese conglomerates including Wanda, Fosun and Suning into foreign clubs and stadiums. At home, clubs attracted rich sponsorship deals and spent lavishly to attract foreign managers and players.

But returns on investment have not been good – the national men’s side currently ranks 75th in the world, a standing that is not compatible with China’s status in so many other areas. And in the Chinese Super League caps have been introduced on salaries and the amount that can be spent on wages for foreign players. These are intended to limit spending and ensure “sustainable growth,” state news agency Xinhua has reported.