Sports Ticker #105: WIPO's esports partnership, MotoGP takeover and Brighton's record profits – a speed read of commercial updates from the sports world

Published on 10 April 2024

In a fortnight which saw the UK Football Governance Bill introduced to Parliament, TNT Sports and Discovery+ win rights to show the 2024 Autumn Nations Series and rumours of "multiple proposals" to host the 2026 Commonwealth Games, we bring you updates on a collaboration between WIPO and the Esports Integrity Commission, MotoGP's takeover and JPMorgan's formation of a specialist sports investment group.

As always, if there are any issues on which you'd like more information (or if you have any questions or feedback), please do let us know or get in touch with your usual contact at RPC.

WIPO and ESIC play co-op

The world of esports and video games is getting a major upgrade to its dispute resolution system. The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), via its Arbitration and Mediation Centre, and the Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC) are joining forces to revolutionise alternative dispute resolution (ADR) within these fast-growing industries. The objective is for disputes to be handled with both fairness and the specific needs of the industry in mind. WIPO and ESIC will be deploying their expertise to raise awareness about ADR and train specialised experts who understand the nuances of esports and video games, alongside other workstreams. Stephen Hanna, CEO of ESIC, said "We are looking forward to collaborating to build new standards for integrity, dispute resolution, and IP protection in esports and video games."

Emerald aisles

The SSE Arena in Belfast will become Europe's first indoor arena to introduce Amazon's Just Walk Out technology. Named PAY & AWAY, the technology utilises AI to offer seamless checkout-free shopping. Shoppers enter the store with a contactless payment and the technology tracks food, drinks, and ready-poured draught beer taken, charging customers as they exit without the need to wait in line. Dermot McGinn, Group Head of Food and Beverage, explained the innovation's ability to maximise visitors' time spent watching events, adding value and enhancing the customer experience. The introduction of PAY & AWAY marks the first deployment of Amazon's Just Walk Out technology on the island of Ireland and makes the Stena Line Belfast Giants the only ice hockey team outside North America to offer this feature. Amazon's Jon Jenkins said he was "thrilled" about the partnership, highlighting the technology's potential to boost sales and increase customer satisfaction for concertgoers and sports fans alike.

Liberty Media races ahead

Liberty Media, the US conglomerate that acquired Formula 1's commercial rights in 2017, has purchased the world's leading motorcycle racing championship, MotoGP, for £3.6 billion. Dorna Sports has owned MotoGP since 1992 and will retain 14% of the equity. Liberty's president and CEO, Greg Maffei, expressed excitement over "expanding its live sports portfolio", highlighting MotoGP's global reach and lucrative cash-generation potential. Dorna's CEO, Carmelo Ezpeleta, will remain in his position and commended Liberty's "incredible track record in developing sports assets". The takeover may attract regulatory scrutiny, since Formula 1's previous owners CVC Capital Partners were only permitted by the European Commission to buy Formula 1 in 2006 on the condition that they sold Dorna. The deal is expected to be finalised by the end of the year, subject to clearance from competition and legal authorities in various jurisdictions.

Brighton's bright future

Premier League football club Brighton & Hove Albion has announced a record after-tax profit of £122.8 million for its 2022-23 season. The club only entered the Premier League in 2017, but it has financially outplayed several veterans of the League, some of whom reported substantial losses. Brighton's profits have been driven in part by lucrative player sales: during the season in question, Brighton sold Marc Cucurella to Chelsea for £60 million, after purchasing him for only £15 million the year before. Other player sales included Yves Bissouma, Leandro Trossard and Alexis Mac Allister, who were sold for a combined sum of £86 million. It remains to be seen whether Brighton's momentum will continue, but the present season also looks promising after the £100 million sale of Moisés Caicedo, again to Chelsea. Caicedo's sale was made this financial year and not last financial year like the others, so that cash remains to be counted. Brighton's Chief Executive, Paul Barber, said "we are hugely grateful to [Brighton owner] Tony Bloom for his clear vision, his world class ownership of our club, and his ongoing financial support."

JPMorgan banks on victory

JPMorgan is seeking to transform athletic gains into capital gains by setting up a "sports investment banking coverage group", according to an internal memo (later confirmed by a spokesperson for the bank). The memo recognises the increasing attractiveness of sports teams as targets for investors, and cites the high values of top sports franchises in the US and Europe ($400 billion), as well as the growth of sports as an asset class generally. Investment banks steered about $25 billion of sports-related M&A in 2023. JPMorgan's team, headed by Eric Menell and Gian Piero Sammartano, will offer clients advisory and financing solutions within the sports sector and work alongside JPMorgan's investment banking, commercial banking and private bank sectors. JPMorgan already has a rich history of working in the sports sector, including advising on the acquisition of a minority stake in Manchester United and funding for ongoing upgrades to Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.


Extra time...

...and finally, Italy's national football coach, Luciano Spalletti, has voiced his displeasure at a recent press conference in a rant about the team's video gaming habits. Speaking to journalists, Spalletti criticised the players who frequently stay up too late playing PlayStation. He claims that this "addiction" is affecting their performance on the pitch. The current European champions secured their spot for this year's Euros after a goal-less draw against Ukraine in November. However, Spalletti is displeased with the players' current attitudes, commenting that "you come to the national team to win the Euros, not to win Call of Duty". Spalletti pledged to clamp down on video gaming time at the team's Euro 2024 training camp, continuing that if "modernity consists of playing the PlayStation until 4am where there is a match the next day, then this modernity is not good".