Juventus: Serie A champions call for earlier kick-offs for Asian market

SPORTS

Italian champions Juventus have called on Serie A to schedule more early kick-offs to help the club grow in Asia.

Juve are below last season’s Premier League top six clubs in revenue and see China as a major area for growth.

The Serie A season begins on Saturday, and every game in the first two weeks starts at midnight or later in Beijing.

“We have to find the right balance between domestic and global audiences,” Juventus chief revenue officer Giorgio Ricci told BBC Sport.

“It is not just about the broadcasting times, it is also about the rights distribution and who is showing the games.

“In that sense, the difference between the Premier League and Serie A is huge.

“This is a very old story and one of the more frequent reasons for fights with the league.”

Italy’s top clubs have long debated with the league about the need for more games to be played at earlier times to maximise their chances of exposure in China and South East Asia.

The bigger clubs do not believe the Italian system, which revolves around evening matches, helps them ‘sell their brands’ globally.

And while there is an acceptance that viewing habits are changing, Juventus are frustrated at the present situation, which they feel tilts the commercial market hugely in favour of Premier League clubs.

During the opening two weekends of the 2019-20 campaign, no Italian top-flight matches will kick off before 17:00 BST, because of hot weather conditions in Italy.

From the third round onwards, there will a Saturday fixture at 14:00 and a Sunday game at 11:30. Kick-off times cannot be changed during the current TV rights deal, which ends in 2021.

A Serie A spokesman agreed that the league must find a balance, “taking into consideration every place in the world because Serie A is broadcast in 200 territories”.

Speaking in March, Serie A president Gaetano Micciche said the possibility of playing a Serie A match in China within the next three years had been discussed, but it was unlikely to happen in that timescale.

Deloitte’s Football Money League, published in January, placed Juventus 11th in the table of the world’s 20 richest clubs.

Ricci said that an aggressive commercial strategy, including becoming the first Italian club to open a branch, in addition to offices in Asia in Hong Kong, is aimed at increasing revenues as they pursue winning the Champions League for the first time since 1996.

Juventus have proceeded with their plans despite the recent civil unrest in Hong Kong.

Juve have also bought high-profile players, signing Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo for £99.2m from Real Madrid in 2018 and £67.5m Netherlands defender Matthijs de Ligt from Ajax this summer.

Although they have won the Italian title on 35 occasions – including for the past eight seasons – they have lost five Champions League finals in the past 23 years.

Several Premier League clubs have offices in Hong Kong, including Manchester United and Manchester City, and Federico Palomba, head of Juventus’ Asia-Pacific operation, says it is a region “with huge scope for growth”.

Since Ronaldo joined last year, Juventus have carried out studies that showed their global fanbase has risen by 16% and their ‘digital community’, their combined followers on various social media platforms including Weibo, has risen by 59% to 81 million.

“In the 1990s, Serie A was very popular in China. Now it is coming back again,” added Palomba.