Sports Ticker (10 May 2021) - Para-sport basketball league, Premier League TV Rights and Olympic Virtual Series

10 May 2021. Published by Jeremy Drew, Head of Commercial and Joshua Charalambous, Partner and Samuel Coppard, Senior Associate

Welcome to the latest edition of the RPC Sports Ticker - providing fortnightly bite-size updates from around the sports industry.

Access the full Sports Ticker here.

Dream turned reality: Professional para­sport basketball league

British Wheelchair Basketball has launched its first ever professional para­sport basketball league, a game changing and exciting move for wheelchair basketball. The first season of the Women's Premier League, the first of its kind in the world, will take place between December 2021 and May 2022 with players being selected from four UK Universities (Cardiff Metropolitan University, Loughborough University, University of East London and the University of Worcester) as British Wheelchair Basketball's High­Performance Partnerships. Lisa Pearce, British Wheelchair Basketball chief executive, hopes this league will assist in getting Team GB's women (currently second in the world) to number one, so we look forward to seeing how the league develops and the opportunities it will provide for aspiring talent across all levels. Read more

Premier League considers scrapping next TV rights auction

The Premier League has discussed potentially cancelling its next domestic media rights auction in favour of rolling over the reported current £4.7bn deal with broadcasters. From the Premier League's perspective, it suggests that the rollover will ensure stability for all parties amid the uncertainty caused by COVID­19. It has therefore reportedly held talks with Sky, BT and Amazon about extending the current deals that were initially secured in 2018. It is expected that rival broadcasters may raise objections, and the move will require approval from a competition law perspective. It is also interesting to note that BT Sport has reportedly opened talks with potential investors as it considers a prospective sale of its sports broadcasting operation in order to focus more on its core telecoms/broadband business (see here). Since its inception, BT Sport has grown to be a major player in terms of sports broadcasting and has rights to a range of leading competitions from the Premier League, Champions League and Europa League, to boxing and Premiership Rugby. Read more

British & Irish Lions new charity partnerships

The British & Irish Lions Charitable Trust has revealed four new charity partnerships for the coming year – Matt Hampson Foundation, My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, The Atlas Foundation, and Wooden Spoon. The one­year partnerships will enable the charities to use The British & Irish Lions Charitable Trust logo for all promotional activity during that period. In addition, the charities will also be able to use the Lions’ digital platforms for promotional purposes, and will have access to 2021 Lions Tour memorabilia for fundraising. According to Gavin Hastings, Chairman of Trustees for the Lions Charitable Trust, the Lions Trust's stated purposes are “to connect with, nurture and support all Lions players in need, alongside furthering the spirit, values and ethos of the Lions through rugby clubs and communities” across the home nations. The Trust focuses on providing financial support for the home unions’ funds for injured players and offering assistance to Lions who may have fallen on challenging times. Read more

Brand new Olympic Virtual Series

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has announced the Olympic Virtual Series (OVS), the first ever Olympic licensed event for both physical and non­physical virtual sports. To produce the series, the IOC will partner with five International Federations as well as game publishers such as the World Baseball Softball Confederation and World Sailing. The OVS is scheduled to take place between 13 May and 23 June 2021 ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and will provide a stage to connect the physical and virtual gaming communities together in relation to sports such as virtual cycling and baseball. The IOC has said that the OVS “creates a stage to connect the physical sporting world with the virtual and simulation sports gaming community”, an exciting and major step for the Olympics. It will be interesting to see how the esports series integrates with the Tokyo Olympics and how engagement among new gaming and esports audiences grows. Read more

Asahi Breweries partners with Rugby World Cup 2023

World Rugby has announced a new commercial partnership with Asahi Group that will see the Japanese beer, spirits, soft drinks and food company join as a global sponsor for the upcoming Rugby World Cup 2023 in France. Asahi's flagship ‘Super Dry’ Lager will also become the official beer of the tournament, replacing Heineken which was the official beer of the Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019. Asahi will have to navigate the loi Évin rules in France, which strictly regulate advertising and marketing of alcohol products, and largely bans alcohol advertising in France. The loi Évin restrictions have given rise to clever marketing changes for tournaments which host matches in France, like the Heineken Cup (referred to as the ‘H Cup’ when matches take place and/or are broadcast in France), the Guinness Six Nations (which sees the Guinness logo replaced with the word “Greatness” on the pitch in France), or Euro 2018 (when Carlsberg instead had perimeter advertising simply saying: “Probably...” in the recognisable Carlsberg font and colours). We await to see the solution preferred by Asahi. World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said: “We are delighted to be welcoming Asahi Group to the family of worldwide partners for Rugby World Cup 2023. Their appointment not only reflects the prestige and truly international appeal of our event, but of the power of a growing and global sport to reach and engage new audiences”. Asahi joins the French banking group Société Générale and Mastercard in the top­tier of worldwide partners announced to date for the eagerly awaited tournament in 2023. Read more


Extra time... 
...and finally, the hot topic of the European Super League (ESL) (see Ticker 36)
continues. In the last fortnight we have seen the postponement of Man United's match versus Liverpool (following protests against Man United's owners, which included protests against the club's involvement in the ESL issues). Questions around whether and when that match can be re¬arranged (and the consequences if it cannot) remain up in the air at the time of writing. Spotify founder, Daniel Ek has stated his interest in acquiring Arsenal FC supported by various ex­Arsenal players. Various executives from the ‘big 6’ teams have apparently been asked to stand down from Premier League committees; the FA has commenced an inquiry and announced that it had written to the ‘big 6’ clubs to request various information and evidence; and the Premier League is reportedly to bring in a new owner's charter. Lots to be keeping up with.