- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

ROME (AP) - Avoid going head-to-head with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Don’t stop for Christmas.

It’s that easy to make drastic improvements in the slumping Italian league, according to the man whose company controls Serie A’s foreign TV rights.

Said Italian entrepreneur Riccardo Silva, “The bottom line is that the Spanish league is more interesting than the Italian league.”

His remedies involve moving more Serie A matches to Friday or Monday nights, starting them earlier than the Spanish games, and playing over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays when TV viewership soars.

“It’s the best period for viewing,” Silva said in an interview with The Associated Press. “People are home and they don’t know what do. If you want to be viewed, do these types of things. Try not to clash with the Spanish league. Play at Christmas time. It’s not so difficult to understand.”

In October, Silva’s company, MP & Silva, renewed in a three-year deal with Serie A worth an average of 185 million euros (more than $200 million) per season - a 60 percent increase over the previous deal.

For a league beset by an exodus of top players, falling attendance, fan violence and racism, that’s a lot of money. So it’s no wonder Silva is frustrated.

“I took my kids to see Tottenham-Chelsea on Jan. 1 while our (Italian) players were sitting in the sun,” Silva said, referring to Serie A’s two-week holiday break, when clubs like AC Milan usually decamp to places like Dubai.

Silva rarely speaks with the media, making him somewhat of a mystery man in the intertwined world of media rights.

Most of the stories written about him have focused on his sprawling penthouse in Miami, the lavish parties filled with models on his luxury yacht, or his close ties to AC Milan and fellow media company Infront.

“Maybe it was our mistake. We didn’t communicate enough,” Silva said. “I don’t want a positive story. I just want the truth. I don’t have anything to hide in my story.”

Born into a family that owns one of the biggest cleaning soap businesses in Italy, the 44-year-old Silva started a media career instead, and founded MP & Silva in 2004 with a couple of fellow Milanese.

MP & Silva holds the rights for the English Premier League in 51 territories - mainly in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia. The company also distributes Roland Garros in Europe; the NBA in Latin America and Scandinavia; plus numerous other leagues and events.

“We are not a business (for) consumers, so we don’t really need to have advertising,” Silva said. “We just buy from the leagues and federations and they all know us. We sell to TV channels and they all know us.”

With an annual turnover of $700 million, MP & Silva ranks third in the sports media rights business behind New York-based IMG and Switzerland-based Infront.

With 100 people in 20 offices dotted around the globe, MP & Silva’s profits this year will be about $90 million.

Last year, the company set up its tax base in Luxembourg.

“The first nine years we had 20 different companies. It was a nightmare. Then some of the leagues asked for consolidated balances. So we created a holding company,” Silva said. “It’s super-transparent.”

Silva specializes in selling clients products like Serie A that they hadn’t intended to buy.

For example, when Silva throws Serie A into a package deal for a client in, say, Vietnam, that already includes the Premier League, the French Open, 10 smaller tennis tournaments and the NBA, the TV station is more inclined to take it.

“Then they can build a programming schedule,” Silva said. “The channels like to deal with one company that provides so much content.”

In the insular world of Italian football, however, Silva’s connections to Infront have been a source of concern.

The ‘MP’ in MP & Silva stands for Media Partners, the Milan-based agency led by Marco Bogarelli that was folded into Infront, the company controlled by Philippe Blatter - the nephew of FIFA president Sepp Blatter - in 2006.

Bogarelli and Silva each got their starts with Milan Channel and Infront advised Serie A in its bidding process for foreign rights, which MP & Silva was awarded over two significantly lower offers from IMG and B4 Capital.

The league’s 20 presidents selected MP & Silva unanimously.

“In Italy it’s very transparent because it’s an auction, and whoever makes the best bid wins. There is no negotiation. It doesn’t matter if I’m friends with Marco Bogarelli,” Silva said. “We won with a 30 percent margin so we probably overbid.”

What matters, Silva says, is improving the product, and that’s an area where Serie A needs help.


Andrew Dampf can be followed at www.twitter.com/asdampf

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