Sports Ticker #95: female F1 test-driver, blockchain in cricket and Berlin marathon disruption – a speed-read of commercial updates from the sports world

Published on 11 October 2023

In a fortnight which saw a delay in the implementation of the National Football Agent Regulations in England pending the resolution of private arbitral proceedings, and the release of the Beckham documentary on Netflix, we bring you updates on the first female F1 test driver in 5 years and disruption to the Berlin marathon by climate protestors. We also cover the Rugby World Cup's potential new pay wall, the use of blockchain in cricket and, of course, the sale of Travis Kelce's American Football jerseys rocketing 400% thanks to Taylor Swift.

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Jessica Hawkins becomes first female F1 test driver in 5 years

Jessica Hawkins recently became the first woman to drive a modern Formula One car since 2018 when she completed 26 laps of the Hungaroring (the Budapest Grand Prix track) in Aston Martin's 2021 race car. An accomplished driver in both racing and film stunts, Jessica is now targeting the debut series of the all-female F1 Academy. This new series, in which all ten F1 teams are entering a car, aims to provide a pathway to bring a woman into F1 itself. The successful driver would follow in the footsteps of Lella Lombardi and Maria Teresa de Filippis, the only two women to have raced in F1 to date. In the same week as Jessica's test, Max Verstappen won the Japanese Grand Prix to secure Red Bull's sixth (and second consecutive) World Constructors' Championship. Verstappen then won his third consecutive world title by finishing second in Saturday's Sprint Race in Qatar. 

Liverpool FC: Fenway Sports Group sells minority stake to US Private Equity firm

Liverpool FC owners, Fenway Sports Group (FSG), have sold a minority stake in the club to US private equity firm Dynasty Equity. The purchase will enable Dynasty to act as passive investors for the club. The sale money (£164 million) will help lessen the club's debt burden and finance capital expenditure and will not be used to fund future transfers. FSG, which bought the club for £300 million in 2010, confirmed that the investment is not a stepping stone to a sale. FSG's president Mike Gordon explained that they remain wholly committed to owning and running the club, but when the right investment partner presented itself, would capitalise on the opportunity. Gordon concluded by saying: "we look forward to building upon the long-standing relationship with Dynasty to further strengthen the club's financial position and sustain our ambitions for continued success on and off the pitch".

When Paint Runs: climate activism disrupts Berlin marathon

In what has become a familiar sight at major sporting events, this year's Berlin marathon was interrupted by the orange-painted protests of climate activists. The protest has been attributed to The Last Generation climate group, who are said to have attempted to block runners and spread the orange paint (now recognisable as a symbol of climate activism) across the route. Of the more than 45,000 runners taking part in this year's marathon, one stood out from the rest, as Ethiopia's Tigst Assefa broke the women's marathon world record with an incredible time of 2h 11m 53s, beating the previous record by more than two minutes. There has been much discussion about the dominance in both women's and men's running by athletes wearing what some are calling 'super shoes' – technologically-enhanced running shoes. This, however, should not detract from the outstanding performances of Assefa and of Kenyan runner Eliud Kipchoge, who won a record fifth Berlin marathon in the men's category.

International Cricket Council names NEAR Foundation as official blockchain partner 

The International Cricket Council (ICC) has partnered with the NEAR Foundation which will become the ICC's Official Blockchain Partner until 2025, aiming to increase fan engagement levels within the sport. The partnership launched on 5 October 2023 ahead of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 in India with the creation of a pre-match strategy challenge. The challenge is powered by NEAR's Blockchain Operating Systems and allows fans to test their knowledge and compete to create winning combinations across batting, bowling and fielding. Real-time matches have a direct impact on the scores of fans, and for those that top the leaderboard there are prizes to be won including match tickets, entry into exclusive events and merchandise. After the World Cup, the ICC and NEAR Foundation will continue to build on the blockchain technology to launch passports for fans to record their actions and memories, whilst ensuring all touchpoints are continually tamper proof.

Rugby World Cup may try paywall

World Rugby, the governing body of Rugby Union, recently announced that it may move the broadcasting rights to the Rugby World Cup behind a paywall. In the UK, the rights have been held by ITV since 1991. However, there is no legal obligation for the entire World Cup to be shown on free-to-air television. While the 2025 Women's World Cup will remain free to air in the UK, thanks to England's status as host nation, paid-for broadcasters and/or streaming companies will be able to bid on the rights for the 2027 World Cup onwards. This decision has received criticism for restricting rugby from reaching the widest audience possible. On the other hand, the sports broadcasting landscape has significantly changed from the previous bidding round for the 2017 to 2023 World Cups. Alan Gilpin, CEO of World Rugby, has pointed to the need for revenue generation if the sport is to receive investment and subsequent growth.

Extra time...

...and finally, rumours of a potential love story between Taylor Swift and Kansas City Chiefs player Travis Kelce were fuelled by her attendance at the two most recent Chiefs games. Following this, sports retailer Fanatics confirmed that Kelce's No.87 jersey was one of the top five selling jerseys, with a reported 400% increase in sales. Searches for "Travis Kelce jersey" were 12x higher than average, their highest since the Chiefs won the Super Bowl in February. Kelce's popularity has increased beyond his wildest dreams. The star tight end gained more than 300,000 additional social media followers, and the podcast he hosts with his brother (Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce) became the No.1 ranked sports podcast on Spotify. Taylor Swift fans know all too well this is nothing new for the singer, whose Eras Tour is on track to generate a $5bn economic impact, more than the gross domestic product of 50 countries.