The Italian Serie A was once known as “Il campionato piu bello del mondo”. That was a time when the world’s best talents played their trade in the peninsula. Michel Platini, Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten, Diego Maradona, and the list goes on and on.
The Azzuri were truly world class, they were even favourites for the 1990 FIFA World Cup. Italian clubs were also winners. Milan and Juventus won the European Cup as Inter, Lazio, Napoli and company were turning the UEFA Cup into Coppa Italia. Serie A had the highest match attendances by far.
For instance, in 1992, Milan broke the world record and sold 72,000 season tickets. They had an average crowd of 77,868 spectators for every home game. The league was also the most popular in the world with fans in those few (but significant) first markets for football such as Japan, South America and Indonesia. In the UK, it was immensely popular and many Englishmen had Baggio or Marco van Basten as their icons.
We turn the chapter and welcome 2012. Serie A is the league best known for defensive football, hooliganism, empty crowds and miserable performances in European competition. Let us take an example of a Nigerian man in October 2011 who is about to be a football fan. He is more likely to support Arsenal, Manchester City or Tottenham than Inter. The worst part is, he is very right. When he watches an Inter match against Trabzonspor in the Champions league with 24,444 fans at the San Siro and he watches Arsenal with a sell out crowd against Millwall in the Carling Cup, he will surely make the right decision.
We talk about our teams being prestigious, when they are eliminated by Schalke 04, Tottenham and Slovan Bratislava in European competition.
However, all is not lost. Serie A can still reclaim its place in world football. Moreover in my opinion, with the right decisions, its the only league that can compete with the Premier League.
TAKE THE EUROPA LEAGUE SERIOUSLY
Almost all people associated with Italian football hate UEFA’s coefficient system. They conclude that its the reason why the Bundesliga has surpassed the Serie A in the league rankings used to determine the number of participants for UEFA club competitions.
Why give equal points to Champions league and Europa league teams? Then there is the huge revenue difference between the two competitions and the timing of the matches.
But everyone has to understand that the reason why the system is there in the first place is to reward the smaller nations that excel in the Europa league extra chances in the Champions league. Calcio fans like to point out that Italian clubs do well in the Champions league in recent years, but actually, they don’t.
The UEFA league coefficient is the ranking of European Leagues by performance in UEFA competitions, not clubs. Italy (until this season) takes 7 teams to Europe. It does you no good if one team (Inter) lifts the trophy while the rest (6 teams) are misfiring (Milan losing 7-2 on aggregate to Manchester United and Fiorentina being eliminated by Bayern at the round of 16).
That is what Italy did in 2007 and especially in 2010. Inter won the trophy but no other Italian team reached the last 8 in any uefa competition. England had a better coefficient for that season despite not winning the trophy. The Germans may not win any trophy for 20 years, but if the likes of Schalke keep on thrashing us and they perform as they are doing right now, then we won’t overtake them any time soon.
Lets take an example of English teams. They never care about the Europa League, so they excel in the Champions league. They almost always top their groups with near maximum points many times. Then they get weaker opponents for the next round and proceed to the quarters. That always gives them the most coefficient points, even this season. They almost always have teams in the semis and the final. Even in the seasons where Milan and Inter lifted the big ears recently, Italian football was generally a joke in the Champions league.
With that said, Serie A now only has 3 CL places, so success in the Europa league is a mus for our survival for now (With all its demerits). UEFA wont change the system just because of one country and with Udinese fielding weak squads plus Roma not qualifying for the greoup stages, I think we are in serious trouble.
BETTER BROADCASTING AND MARKETING OF THE LEAGUE
Italians are the masters of TV rights marketing for football. Serie A makes the most money from the sale of “DOMESTIC TV RIGHTS”. Rights to broadcast the games in Italy alone. Traditionaly, they were sold to Sky Italia, Mediaset, Dahlia TV and
the mobile and radio transmissions. But a new deal is being worked out.
Sky will pay €558 million for 2012-2013, €561 million for 2013-14 and €564 million for 2014-2015. Mediaset’s bid was for €259 million, €268 million and €277 million over the three seasons. The total deal for both packages is €2.487 billion. Deals for free to air transmission for 12 lesser clubs (which used to go to the now dead Dahlia TV), mobile and radio rights have not been auctioned yet, which will surely take it to the region of €1 billion. On the contrast, the EPL makes around €800 million by selling DOMESTIC rights to the likes of Sky and ITV.
Where the EPL beats calcio is on international TV rights. They sell theirs for €490 million per season while worldwide sales of Serie A TV rights go for €181.5 million for 2 seasons (€90.75m per season) ending in May. The combined total gives about €1.3 billion to the EPL and €1 billion to the Serie A. No country can match that, that’s the main weapon of the A financially.
Infront and MP & Silva are the two companies that are supposed to bring Serie A action to those boys in Frankfurt and Cape Town. But so far, they are just trying. The whole broadcasting quality needs to be significantly improved. The league should also be WELL marketed in all countries. I live in Tanzania,and this is the first season that Serie A is on TV since 2001, despite the fact that I am a long time fan. The world is so full of people who have no clue about football and can become calcio fans. We need more matches in HD and we would also fancy 3D.
CHANGE OF TACTICS
The reason why I watch Serie A is because I admire the football philosophy. But that doesn’t mean that its perfect. These days, football is an exhibition, so beautiful play sells. But the mentality in Italy remains the same.
At one time, Inter beat Milan 4-0 in the derby. But if it was Barcelona, Bayern or Man United in that match, it could have been even 7-0.But it wasn’t because this is Italy and we only need the 3 points. 4 goals is too much of a bonus, and we don’t care about the fans.
This is changing though, albeit very slowly. Walter Mazzari, Luis Enrique and Cesare Prandelli represent the new face of Italian football. If they are given a long time to install their systems (and the systems work), other teams will follow the trend.
BUILD NEW STADIUMS
There is not a lot I can say about this issue. Italian stadiums are horrible. Even the San Siro. Don’t get me wrong, the San Siro is one of the most iconic stadiums. But just like Moratti once pointed out, its lower terrace was built in 1926. It has always been a job of renovation and change of capacity for the last 85 years.
Its architectural plan is fantastic for a stadium (steep terraces, fans close to the pitch), but its nowhere being a modern stadium like say Allianz Arena or Estadio da Luz. The corners have the least popular seats and they are sometimes empty even during the derbies. The Cagliari stadium is among the worst (At least on TV). Calcio fans are so enthusiastic about Juve’s new stadium, but its just ONE STADIUM. We need at least 16 of those, and we have only one.
Massimo Cellino (Cagliari president) is constructing a new arena as we speak, to be named Stadio Karalis. Zamparini has stated that Palermo’s new arena may have its foundations built from January. Udinese will do renovation while Roma is promising us something. But as I said before,its not enough. All clubs need to wake up.
OUR WAY FORWARD
Italian football faces a lot of problems. If we could write all of them, I would write a book. For some issues, there is little we can do. Weak Italian economy, bureucracy in the government, etc. But I have tried to highlight the most important issues. I love Italian football, and I will watch it for all my life, but for its future, change needs to happen real fast. Serie A is the second best league in the world in my opinion.
So its not too late to reclaim our top spot. Guys let’s cheer for the Azzuri against Uruguay and wait for the weekend’s Serie A matches. And I hope you will all cheer for Napoli, Milan and Inter next week.
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