Serie A makes Capello ‘Ultra’ proud of the Premier League

Fabio Capello spoke of his admiration for the Premier League yesterday at Parma University, where he collected a career award, and gave a lecture on sporting management. Capello damned Serie A for failing to meet the standards set in the Premier League in terms of teams, supporters and stadia. Capello told the Guardian,

“Players prefer to go to England and Spain and it is not just for the money. They see Italian stadiums are half empty and realise we’ve got problems”.

Capello believes that Italian football is losing its appeal due to the poor quality of the stadiums, such as lack of amenities, and the fact that they are council-owned, and often poorly run. Capello went on

“ In Italy the stadium fills up half an hour before kick-off, whereas in England and Spain everyone is still at the bar or in the restaurant because their seat is booked. That income boosts the resources of clubs”.

It would appear that Capello’s belief that stadium infrastructure is vital to attracting bigger crowds in Italy is not without weight. Whilst England is much smaller that Italy, and away fans add to the attendance figures, this fails to explain the discrepancy between Italy and say, Germany, which is also geographically large. The average attendances in the German Bundesliga for the 2008/09 season reached 42, 749, whilst the Premier League averaged 35, 599. German football stadia was greatly boosted by the 2006 World Cup, and Premier League clubs began revolutionising English stadiums ever since the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989. However, the poor state of Italian football grounds may be a reason for the low average attendance figures of just 25,045.

The state of Italian stadiums may also effect the hooliganism problem in Serie A from the Ultras. In October 2009 Capello told the Daily Mail that Serie A panders to the demands of the Ultras, with it even suggested that clubs give these ‘fans’ free tickets in some instances. Thus, investment is certainly an issue with regard to Italian football stadia. One area of the game that the Italian authorities feel needs addressing to promote such investment in Italian clubs, is the issue of television rights.

As of 2007, clubs in Italy were able to negotiate their own contracts with broadcasters in Italy. Whilst in the Premier League, money from television rights is negotiated centrally by the Premier League and spread evenly amongst the clubs, teams in Serie A are able to sell the rights to their live matches individually. For example, Milan, Inter, Juventus, Napoli, Roma and Lazio all have private agreements with Mediaset Premium to broadcast live matches. Arguably, this leaves a huge discrepancy in club revenue, with the bigger clubs getting richer, and the smaller clubs stagnating, depending on basic television revenue that is split between 42 clubs in Serie A and Serie B. The top clubs also have Champions League television revenue that creates an even greater chasm between Italy’s chasing pack and the elite. Whilst one might argue that in England there is also a clear divide between the ‘big four’ (Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United) who dominate the Premier League because of Champions League revenue, the poor infrastructure that Capello refers to in Serie A, especially with regard to Italy’s smaller clubs, would be greatly benefitted by a basic boost in television revenue. For example, at the San Siro, although AC Milan is one of Italy’s biggest clubs, the average attendance for the 2008/09 season was 58,722. However, Parma, once one of Italy’s biggest clubs, attract an average of just 21,946 despite playing in a stadium that can hold over 60,000.

Serie A plans to tackle this discrepancy between the Premier League and Serie A by introducing their own version of the English Premier League. Currently, Serie A and Serie B negotiate their television contracts with Sky Italia together, and the money is evenly distributed between all 42 clubs. However, by breaking away from Italy’s second tier and creating Lega Calcio Serie A, Italy’s elite league hope to close the gap on their English counterparts by negotiating it’s television rights independently form Serie B. The Premier League has had a representative in each of the last four Champions League finals, and by creating a new league and generating greater revenue, Lega Calcio Serie A hopes to challenge the Premier League’s domination of the Champions League by increasing the wealth of Italy’s top clubs.