I’ve been asked to spread the discussion among the various leagues, so I’ll try my best to do that. I’ve decided to write about the so-called “decline” of the Serie A. We’ve all heard it a few times before, and especially in recent times following the 2006 betting scandal, that Italy’s Calcio is losing its charm and is in free-fall.
Back in the 80s and 90s the Serie A was the benchmark for all leagues to follow. They had legendary teams that are considered amongst the greatest ever: the great Dutch trio of Riijkaard, Gullit and Van Basten masterminded numerous AC Milan successes during that period, as was the Juventus team of the late 90s with players like Zidane, Davids and Del Piero patrolling that team. Those teams set the standards for others to follow. Some people don’t give Italian football the credit it deserves, especially during its glory days. We sometimes ignore the fact that from 1989 to 1998, in every season except one, an Italian club was involved in the final of the Champions League (AC Milan, Juventus and Sampdoria being the representatives). To imagine such an accomplishment in the competition nowadays is almost unthinkable.
The Bundesliga, Premier League and La Liga fans would argue by saying that they have dominated the last ten years, but that domination has been well spread across the 3 leagues (with the Italians involved too). What I’m wondering is why and how do people consider the Italian league to be going downhill, when at the moment the current Champions league winners are…an Italian club. Why do many of us believe that this league (even I have been a victim of saying this) is going downward?
I wouldn’t lay the blame on the betting scandal that occurred in 2006 when teams were getting punished unequally as the penalties on that were farcical. But in my opinion, there are 2 reasons why Italian football is deemed as “in decline”: firstly, the stadia and secondly, the media (that rhymes).
I recently wrote about being against breaking down old stadia and instead renovating them. In Italy, they are in real need of renovations of their stadia. They need an international tournament to be hosted there to give them a kick up the backside so they can clean up their stadia as they have been untouched in such a longtime, whereas all over Europe, clubs are just refurnishing and tidying up. The fans are still seated so far away from the ground and the filming, because of that, is just as well distant and not as attractive on the eyes as its European counterparts. That would be the first factor.
The second factor is the way the league is being marketed and branded in the media. The media control the way you perceive a league. The broadcasting of that league is essential to its success, and right now Italian football is struggling with that. I read an interesting statistic recently which stated that when the Premier League began in 1992, Manchester United vs Chelsea had 1 million viewers on television in the WORLD for a league game and on the very same day Sampdoria vs Lazio had 3 million viewers… in the UK alone! Try and imagine a figure like that now, it is impossible. Nowadays there are bidding wars for the television rights of the Premier League, La Liga and the Champions League, but not for the Serie A.
The Premier League may have more money, La Liga may hair more flair, the Bundesliga may have more fans and Ligue 1 may have…well I don’t know what Ligue 1 has but it’s attractive to some people – but the Serie A doesn’t lack these traits. On the contrary, Italian football has the money, it has the players, it has the history, it has the flair, it has the clubs, it has the (potential) stadia, it has the fans, it has the passion, it has the rivalries…it has got it all; the only things missing are the marketing and media coverage power of the other leagues and the renovation of its stadia.
The leagues have become brands, just as the clubs have. They are global businesses now, which means that things like the logos, the sponsors, the designs on the jerseys, the marketing, the broadcasting and all the other factors that have nothing to do with what happens on the pitch matter in how people are going to perceive the league. Those aspects contribute to the league’s appeal. It is the power of the media; and this is where (alongside the stadia aspect) I believe Italian football failed – they lost to the media.