Mediaset sues soccer league over scandal

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ROME -- Italian broadcasting giant Mediaset filed suit against the country's top soccer league Wednesday, seeking damages for what the company called "a loss in viewer interest" in the wake of a game-fixing scandal that broke last year.

In the suit, Mediaset is seeking damages against the €61 million ($79.9 million) fee it paid the right to broadcast the majority of Serie A soccer matches.

Soccer broadcasting was a central part of Mediaset's development into Italy's largest private broadcaster and the main rival for state broadcaster RAI. The year's top soccer matches regularly rate among television's most-watched programs.

Mediaset's suit is based on the argument that broadcasting soccer games is not as attractive as it had been, due to the game-fixing scandal.

The suit points to several statistics: an 18% drop in ticket sales and a 15% drop in the demand for pay-per-view games.

"There has been a major loss in viewer interest toward the Serie A, which means a strong reduction in market value of the broadcast rights," Mediaset said in a statement.

But Sergio Ancon, a spokesman for the soccer league, said in an interview broadcast by RAI that the drop was mostly due to the demotion of Juventus -- the most popular Italian team -- to Serie B as a result of the scandal.

"It is not a coincidence that Serie B viewership levels are up by 50%," the official said. "The levels will return when Juventus returns to Serie A."

Each year, the bottom teams in Serie A are demoted to Serie B and the top teams in the lower league are promoted to replace the demoted squads. But Juventus was sent down as part of its punishment for the match rigging scandal.

Mediaset is controlled by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who also controls AC Milan, a Serie A team.

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