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By | August 23, 2000

      Italian Serie A football club Napoli has succeeded in obtaining an away win in its battle with Milan-based pay-TV operator Tele+ over TV rights. A Milan court ruled in favour of Napoli FC, declaring that when the club signed an exclusive TV rights deal with Tele+ in January 1999, the pay-TV operator abused its dominant position.

      The judge said that Tele+ took advantage of the club’s severe economic conditions, since at the time it sold the rights, Napoli FC did not even have enough money to enter the Serie B championship. At that time, the courts revoked the previous provisions that prohibited the club from negotiating its own TV rights.

      The TV rights have now moved over to rival pay-TV operator Stream, which in exchange has pledged to invest L60 billion (E30.99 million) per season over a five-year period, compared to the L21 billion (E10.85m) per season offered by Tele+. The judge recognised that before agreeing with Stream, Napoli FC tried to renegotiate the contract with Tele+, but with no success.

      Tele+ has expressed “amazement” at the motivations of the court ruling and has announced it will appeal. However, the court ruling will represent a real conflict of interest for Napoli’s supporters. Many of them who had taken out a Tele+ subscription in order to follow the games of their club, will now also have to subscribe to Stream. It is yet unclear how many existing subscribers to the Tele+ Napoli package renewed it for the 2000/01 season.

      According to Tele+, Napoli’s subscriber base is 15,000, but the operator admitted that it is difficult to estimate their current number. A consolation for Tele+ subscribers is that they will still have the possibility of watching Napoli’s 11 away games against clubs that have signed up with Tele+. Since Stream and Tele+ have not yet agreed on a single decoder (which should have come in force on July 1), Stream is considering facilitations for subscribers.

      Napoli FC is also planning to renegotiate a two-year contract with Rai Trade which paid L6 billion (E3.10m) for the foreign TV rights, aiming to increase the sum to L10 billion (E5.16m) a year.

      Unfortunately for Canal+-owned Tele+, the court ruling may not be the end of the story. Other Italian clubs – such as Torino FC which has a three-year contract – are considering the possibility of re-evaluating their contracts with Tele+.

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