Monday, April 11, 2011

The "decline" of the Serie A

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.


  1. I'm very glad you wrote about Serie A.
    I have to say that I've been a faithful Serie A follower since 2000.
    I have to correct some of the info though.
    In 2006, "Calciopoli" was created as a trial to punish the people involved in referee designating for Serie A games. It has nothing to do with betting.
    In result, Juventus were stripped of 2 scudetti and were demoted to Serie B with a 13 point deduction.
    In an extraordinary turn of events, late of 2010, a trial was reopened with further evidence that shows every single Serie A team was involved in the Calciopoli and remarkably Inter had the most favorable selection of refs. But back then even if a ref was against Juve, there was no way of beating them.
    That being said, calciopoli is the main reason for that Decline, alongside the bad marketing that Serie A has received and the refusal of teams to be sold to Foreign investors. You may call it pride of being Italian but nowadays money speaks.
    I'm eagerly awaiting the UEFA rules of financial fair play that kicks off in 2013 to see if it will bring back the Italian clubs their deserved prestige back.


  2. Great article, and great points by Philippe as well. I agree that the stadiums and the media are a big reason why the league isn't as big as it once was. The way leagues are marketed plays a HUGE role. The English league was marketed very intelligently, and as a result, they got more money. They also sold to foreign investors which brought more money as well. I personally don't like the idea of that. I feel like the teams lose part of their identity when that happens.

    Calciopoli played a huge role as well. The media ripped Serie A apart after that. And that resulted in a large amount of players leaving Serie A, and a large amount not wanting to come to Italy either.

  3. Some friendly advice, make sure you research before you write an article. If you are talking about a topic you are not familiar with then it is best you don't write about it at all. Write about stuff you like and understand. The comments by Anthony and Philippe are proof of that.

    Good Luck :)

  4. Nice comments by Pipo and Anthony (that's not me - the person who wrote the article though :p), don't know who it is. As I said though, Calciopoli, in my opinion, was not the reason. Because as mentioned, the punishments I believed were a joke.

    To Ury: your friendly advice is welcome here and so are your opinions even if they differ from what is written (that's the whole point of a blog).
    However, if you're such a pro (or a friend for that matter) and feel a need to criticize, then at least let it be constructive criticism about the article itself instead of personal criticism.
    Phil and Anthony's remarks have given a different perspective to what I wrote about, as they probably know more (and unless I'm mistaken, it goes hand in hand with what I wrote - stadia, marketing...).

    So why don't you point out what you think Ury, instead of venting your anger on me personally :)?

  5. Hahaha Settle down boys! But who are we kidding this is football.

    Just to add one thing: Calciopoli broke up a team of legends and banned the greatest football director to ever live: Luciano Moggi. Calciopoli lost Juventus investors, money, players and we had to rebuild.

    So if it had to be in this order IMO: Calciopoli - Marketing - Stadia.

    Phil or Pipo :P.

  6. Italian teams need to develop their youth system and develop young players to replace the aging stars of the past two decades. Looking at how their U15 to senior international teams have been performing one can tell there's no solid continuity.

    From my personal experience from watching serie A the past 2 years, it is missing flair, pace, aggression and passion compared to the other top 3 leagues in Europe.
    The fans care about one thing and it's winning so their teams are content on being cautious with their style of play and winning with a small margin while closing down the opposite team.

    Game attendance has been in decline in Italy. In the bundesliga you would rarely find an empty row of seats. In Italy your no stranger to finding a whole section of a stadium deserted.

    I remember when there was a time when Italian teams were feared in the champions league and were unstoppable at the san siro. In the past years that hasn't been the case. One might argue that inter Milan won the champions league final last year and that they beat Barcelona... That team was being built by Mourinho for 2 seasons just so that they can win the champions league. Last season inter had only 3 Italian players in their squad and none of them were starters.
    The champions league final team had no Italian players in it until Materazzi was substituted in at the end of the second half.
    Yes an Italian team won the trophy but in return the lack of Italians in that squad hurts the league even more.

    The serie A is in the same position as the bundesliga was over 10 years ago. The Italian football governing body needs to enforce new regulations on the league that include youth development, style of play, fan and media interaction, and safe financial practice.

  7. You don't have to disrespect and insult others simply to hold your own ground. If you do, that shows how shaky your own position is.