The recent measures adopted by the Government in Italy create high expectations for the restart of sports competitions during the Covid-19 emergency.
The current status of sports competitions in Italy during the Covid-19 emergency
In a country like Italy, where football is often more relevant that politics, the suspension of the Serie A was a significant pain for most of us. The fact that my team (Napoli) was having one of its worst seasons of the last years only partially relieved the pain.
But the situation cannot last forever and based on the provisions recently adopted and what announced by the Italian Prime Minister:
- training of individual Olympic sports can restart on the 4th of May 2020; while
- training of team sports is expected to restart on the 18th of May 2020, depending on the evolution of data relating to the spread of Covid-19.
According to the latest rumors, the Italian football championship will restart in June 2020, but nothing has been decided yet. Indeed, the teams of the Italian football association have diverged positions on the matter. And the scenario has been worsened by the qualification of a potential contagion of athletes during their professional activity as an injury in the workplace with the consequential liabilities for teams.
No official decision has been taken yet on the Serie A. At the same time, the chairman of the Italian third league of soccer, Serie C, already announced that the season is over, and the same conclusion was decided for all the male and female basketball championships.
What are the potential liabilities for sports teams of the Covid-19 emergency?
An open question is whether teams will have to refund the price of tickets for matches that will not take place or will occur without spectators.
Some Italian teams provide clauses in the Ts&Cs of their tickets, excluding any sort of refund if the event does not take place and therefore excluding the applicability of force majeure rules. However, these clauses are currently investigated by the Italian competition authority since they might be deemed unfair under Italian consumer law and, therefore, null and void.
A similar scenario relates to the payment to football teams of the consideration for media rights by broadcasters. Negotiations are ongoing between the parties, and a settlement is likely to be reached with an agreement on either the postponement of some payments or a reduced amount to be due for the coming year. Indeed, if there is a change in the format of the championship with a lower number of matches and, for instance, a play-off format, broadcasters might require a proportional reduction of the consideration due.
For sponsorship agreements with sports teams, there is no general rule applicable to the scenario. Still, it is necessary to review the agreements, and only if they are silent on the matter, Italian rules on force majeure events will become applicable.
Most of the commentators expect major disputes during the coming months due to the uncertainty deriving from the current situation. In this article “Is coronavirus a force majeure termination event for contracts?“, I analyzed the general contract law principles applicable to the termination of agreements due to the Covid-19 emergency and the anti-contagion measures adopted by most of the governments.
Also, with my DLA Piper colleagues of several jurisdictions, we will discuss on the 30th of April 2020 about the impact of Covid-19 on the sports sector. You can find the details at the link HERE.