Sports Ticker #97: Esports World Cup 2024, the increasing value of women's sports and European Super league
In a fortnight which saw DAZN secure exclusive F1 rights in Spain until 2026, Jude Bellingham become the first England player to win the Kopa Trophy for best performing under-21 player in the world, and FIFA ban Luis Rubiales for three years from all football activity, we bring you updates on Saudi Arabia's new Esports World Cup, planned increases in investment in women's sports and the marketing value of influencer athletes.
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Saudi Arabia continues to assert itself in the world of sport. Within touching distance of its successful bid to host the FIFA Men's World Cup 2034, a sparkling new Esports World Cup will be launched in Riyadh in Summer 2024. Saudi Arabia's FIFA World Cup bid was expected to be opposed only by Australia, but the Oceanian nation decided hours before the deadline not to declare its interest. Australia's governing body said it intends to focus on hosting the Women's Asian Cup 2026 and the FIFA Club World Cup 2029 instead. Meanwhile, details of the Esports World Cup remain limited, but Saudi Arabia has promised to include the most popular titles in the world. The competition will also supposedly feature the largest prize pool in Esports history. Although at present an undisclosed amount, the current record prize pool to beat is $45 million, which was awarded at Gamers8's event earlier this year.
When the European Super League (ESL) was first announced in April 2021, pushback from fans of the 15 teams who signed up for the project led to 12 of those teams, including all 6 Premier League sides, dropping out within 72 hours. Italian club, Juventus, more recently announced its plans to abandon the league, leaving Real Madrid and Barcelona as the only teams involved. After an ongoing debate, the ECJ is set to deliver its final verdict on whether the UEFA and FIFA rules were "compatible with EU competition law" on 21 December 2023. After FIFA and UEFA threatened to sanction clubs that planned to join the breakaway league, the ESL challenged the legality of the governing bodies' position.
Following a year of unprecedented growth in valuation and interest in women's sports, Sports Innovation Lab have released their report, "The ROI of Women's Sports: A Blueprint for Value Investing". The report found that underinvestment in women's sports is causing a perceived lack of interest, which further deters investment. The report calls for executives to categorise spend on women's sports as a value investment. On average, brands spend 9% of their total sports media investment on women's sports, with 83% planning to increase this in 2024. Barriers to investing further are reportedly categorised into limited reach (e.g. undesirable time slots) and issues with discoverability (i.e. fans struggling to find places to watch their team).
Just four days before the Springboks lifted the Webb Ellis Cup, World Rugby announced a serious shakeup to the international game. The men's 2027 World Cup in Australia will include four new teams and will see the addition of a Round of 16 ahead of the quarterfinals. In the women's game, there will be a dedicated international release window aimed at promoting opportunities for players and securing investment. Perhaps the biggest development is the introduction of a biennial Nations Championship. The leading 24 men's nations from both hemispheres will compete in two divisions from the autumn of 2026 onwards. The top division will feature the existing Six Nations and SANZAAR teams, as well as two other nations yet to be decided; promotion and relegation between divisions will commence in 2030. In a challenging year for domestic rugby, will these changes prove to be the boost the game needs?
Merton Council has granted planning permission for 39 new courts to be built by the All England Club on the former site of Wimbledon Park Golf Club, likely to be in operation from 2030. Planning officers were concerned the proposals would result in "physical harm" to Metropolitan Open Land but concluded that "very special circumstances" outweighed the harm. The extra courts will create 8,000 additional seats and allow qualifying to take place on site. The new show court will have climbing plants on the walls and a roof to host matches whatever the weather. If the plans come to fruition then up to 10,000 people a day will be able to watch qualifying and up to 50,000 will be able to enter the grounds during each day of the main fortnight. A new 23-acre public park will also be created, with free access all year round, excluding the weeks of the Championships.
...and finally, in an historic first for an athlete, Serena Williams, received the Fashion Icon award at the CFDA Fashion Awards on Monday night. Led by David Beckham and his sarong in 1998, the sporting world has become increasingly intertwined with fashion, with luxury conglomerate LVMH sponsoring the Paris 2024 Olympics. Trend analyst Lefty reported that these partnerships have so far this year generated £64.7m in earned media value (the measure of earnings a brand can expect from social media shout-outs). In a striking departure from Wimbledon's traditionally-stringent outfit rules, men's world No 8 Jannik Sinner took a Gucci bag on court this year, which followed Emma Raducanu becoming an ambassador for both Dior and Tiffany in 2021. Athletes are certainly understanding and capitalising on the importance of a well-maintained social media presence. Louisiana University stars Angel Reese and Olivia Dunne are leading the next evolution of influencer athletes after being ranked above Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Kane in this year's 50 Most Marketable (50MM). Both Reese and Dunne use social media alongside their established sporting reputation to generate extra online attention and ultimately progress their careers.