Sports Ticker: F1 Alpine secures funding and sports tech VC investment shows signs of a bounceback – a speed-read of commercial updates from the sports world

Published on 13 July 2023

In a fortnight which saw the men's England U21s football team triumph in the Euros and the start of Wimbledon, we bring you updates on Caster Semenya's victory in the European Court of Human Rights, and investments in F1 and the sports tech sector. We also feature stories on a record-breaking start to the Women's Ashes and the Tour de France starting to incorporate ChatGPT.

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.

Caster Semenya Successfully Appeals to European Court of Human Rights

 The South African athlete, Caster Semenya, has been successful in her appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Semenya is a two-time Olympic champion, having triumphed in the 800 metres at both the London Olympics in 2012 and the Rio Olympics in 2016. She was born with differences in sex development (DSD), which results in her having higher levels of testosterone than women who do not have the condition. In 2018, World Athletics rolled out regulations requiring athletes with DSD to reduce their testosterone levels to be within specific limits. Semenya has not competed since. Semenya's appeal to ECtHR is the culmination of a lengthy legal battle against the regulations, following unsuccessful appeals to the court of arbitration for sport (CAS) and the Swiss federal tribunal.  The ECtHR found by a majority decision of 4 to 3 that the Swiss state had breached both Article 13 of the ECHR, by not providing Semenya with effective protection from discrimination, and Article 14 of ECHR, by discriminating against Semenya. The judgment held that the Swiss court had failed to implement “sufficient institutional and procedural safeguards”. Counsel for Semenya, Schona Jolly KC, hailed the decision, stating that “this important personal win… is also a wider victory for elite athletes around the world”. However, it is unclear if the judgment will have any material impact on Semenya's right to compete. In response to the decision, World Athletics stated: “we remain of the view that the DSD regulations are a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of protecting fair competition in the female category as the Court of Arbitration for Sport and Swiss Federal Tribunal both found, after a detailed and expert assessment of the evidence”. World Athletics suggested in its statement that a “final and definitive decision” from the ECHR Grand Chamber would put the matter to rest, and confirmed that the current regulations would remain in force for now.

F1 team Alpine secures $218m from investor pool including actor Ryan Reynolds

Alpine's parent group, Renault, has announced the sale of 24% of Alpine's shares to a US-based investor consortium that includes Otro Capital, private equity firm RedBird Capital Partners and Ryan Reynolds' investment firm Maximum Effort Investments. The consortium is made up of a number of experienced sports investors. RedBird's portfolio includes the third-largest stake in Fenway Sports Group (FSG), which owns the Boston Red Sox baseball team and Liverpool FC. It also holds stakes in AC Milan and Toulouse football clubs. Ryan Reynolds is joined by fellow actors Rob McElhenney and Michael B Jordan as members of Maximum Effort. Reynolds and McElhenney appear to be expanding their business interests in the sports world following the success of their acqusition of Welsh football club Wrexham FC.  As part of the share sale, Alpine was valued at $900m. CEO Laurent Rossi said that the investment was a vital part of the team's goal to compete with the top three F1 teams within four years.

Sports Tech Funds Pile Up Cash as 2023 Sees VC Rebound

Sports tech funds have set a new quarterly record, raising $2bn in the first quarter of 2023. This continues the sector's strong growth in recent years, coming to encompass a diverse range of sporting-adjacent activities including how venues are constructed, how athletes train and compete, and how fans engage. The top sports venture capital firms are in competition to fund the next software that will change the way people interact with the sports they love, according to Drake Star Partners, a technology-focussed investment bank. In its Q1 sports technology investment report, Drake Star notes that businesses in AI, ticketing and venue management are being favoured by funds, with 60 M&A deals announced or closed in the first three months of the year. According to the report, this growth in activity points to a widespread acceptance in the sporting sector that technology is key to improving every aspect of its operations.

Women's Ashes Sets New Records for Viewing Figures

 The Sky Sports coverage of the Women's Ashes began with a bang as a record peak viewing audience of 480,000 individual viewers was reached. Further impressive stats followed in the days after, with almost 12 million video views across Sky Sports' media channel over the course of the five days. Sky Sports Managing Director Jonathan Licht was delighted with the results, commenting “we're thrilled to see further records broken on Sky Sports following such an exciting start to the Ashes for the England Women's team”. Similarly, Tony Singh (Chief Commercial Officer at the ECB) praised the first test, describing it as “fantastic that so many people wanted to be a part of the action, whether watching in the stands, on Sky, or listening on radio or online”. Further T20 fixtures are set to come at Edgbaston, the Oval and Lord's with one-day internationals lined up for Bristol, Southampton and Taunton. Based on the figures so far, these newly-set records may not be in place for very long. 

Tour de France adds ChatGPT and digital twin tech

Spectators of the Tour de France, the world's largest and most prestigious cycling race, will this year be able to engage with the race in a manner previously thought confined to the realms of science fiction. NTT, the race's official technology partner, is utilising various AI tools to provide viewers with enhanced analysis and real-time virtual coverage. Sensors attached to each bike will identify the location and speed of each cyclist every 400 milliseconds. Also, with the assistance of generative AI, a digital replica of the race will be created supported by real-time data. The intention is also to incorporate ChatGPT to provide detailed and tailored race information to fans. This radical change has the potential to transform how spectators experience and consume professional cycling.

Extra time...

...and finally, the US state of Missouri has dismissed the US$100 million defamation and antitrust lawsuit filed by American Grandmaster, Hans Niemann, against numerous leading figures of the chess world. Niemann had been publicly accused of cheating during an over-the-board match with Norwegian world number one, Magnus Carlsen, last year (as covered in a previous Sports Ticker). He has denied all allegations. The 20-year-old has sought financial compensation for “egregious” reputational damage from Carlsen himself, as well as from prominent chess commentators and streamers, who made statements regarding potential misconduct. Federal judge, Audrey Fleissig, ruled that the case for defamation was outside of her jurisdiction. Niemann's lawyers have consequentially announced their intentions to pursue their client's claim further in another state court. Niemann's claims that Carlsen and violated antitrust laws through an alleged monopoly over chess competitions were also dismissed by Fleissig with prejudice, meaning that they cannot be filed again.