RAI reaches last-minute soccer deal

Pays $41 mil for rights to most of season's top games

VENICE -- Italian soccer fans will be able to watch their favorite team on television this week after all.

State broadcaster RAI reached a last-minute deal with the Lega Calcio to broadcast most of this season's top league Serie A games for 27.5 million euros ($41 million) -- less than half what RAI's rival Mediaset paid for last season's broadcast rights. The contract also includes a 28 million euro ($41.7 million) option for next season.

The first games take place Saturday, barely 24 hours after the agreement with RAI was reached.

If RAI's second-year option is exercised, the broadcaster will have paid a combined 55.5 million euros ($82.7 million) for broadcast rights for two years, less than the 61.5 million euros ($91.6 million) that Mediaset paid to broadcast last season's games, though the Mediaset package included the rights to broadcast more games than RAI will have rights to.

Mediaset lost millions on its soccer coverage last year amid falling viewership numbers.

The Lega Calcio had been seeking 70 million euros ($104 million) for this year's rights, but it failed to find any takers.

Experts say that interest in Italian soccer broadcasts is on the wane because of scandals, the growing popularity of pay-per-view broadcasts and a rising interest in non-Italian soccer leagues and alternative sports.
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