Thu | Dec 14, 2017

Serie A seeks Christmas cheer

Published:Friday | December 8, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Juventus forward Gonzalo Higuain scores his side's goal during the Italian Serie A match between Napoli and Juventus at the San Paolo stadium in Naples, Italy, last week Friday. Juventus won 1-0.

ROME, Italy (AP):

For a competition that has always held holidays as sacrosanct, Serie A is about to make a big break from tradition. Following the successful example of the English Premier League, the Italian league will play Serie A and Italian Cup matches during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. "The concept is simple. Professional football is an entertainment product and offering it during the holiday period is a great opportunity for those in charge," Roma general manager Mauro Baldissoni told The Associated Press.

"The Premier League has shown that it works to offer this product during the holidays - both in terms of stadium attendance and international TV viewership."

While the schedule is still being determined, Cup matches will likely be held on Dec. 26 and 27 followed by Serie A games on Dec. 29 and 30.

More Cup matches are scheduled for Jan. 2 and 3 then Serie A again on Jan. 5 and 6.

In the past, Serie A's winter break began before Christmas and lasted until after Jan. 6, which is Epiphany, a major Catholic feast day and the end of the holiday period in Italy.

This season, the break will be from Jan. 7-20.

Still, the Italian schedule has not gone quite as far as the Premier League, which has no break at all and games on Dec. 26, 27, 28, 30 and 31, plus Jan. 1, 2, 3 and 4 meaning teams will play three matches in little more than a week.

But for a league struggling with attendance, Italy is providing an opportunity for families to go to the stadium while school is on break.

An average of 22,177 fans attended Serie A matches last season, ranking the league fourth in Europe behind the Bundesliga, English Premier League, and La Liga.

The German, Spanish, and French leagues still won't play during the last week of the year. But other sports like the NBA and NFL do.

"Not taking advantage of this period and leaving it to other leagues means losing competitively in the international market so we've decided to get involved during this period," Baldissoni said.

It's a timely move, considering the Italian game is in dire need of a boost after the Azzurri's failure to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

"It's a way to try and boost the brand value of Serie A," Baldissoni said.

It also coincides with the most competitive Serie A in years. Entering this weekend's matches, the top four clubs - Inter Milan, Napoli, six-time defending champion Juventus, and Roma - are within five points of each other.

Serie A recently made a switch and assigned its international TV rights for the next three seasons to IMG for 370 million euros ($440 million) per season, nearly double the value of the previous deal with MP and Silva.

Next month, the league is planning to assign a new deal for its much more lucrative domestic rights with a price tag expected to exceed 1 billion euros.

So feedback on attendance, TV viewership, and advertising for the holiday games will be highly scrutinised.