Sports Ticker (25 Feb 2021) - England Cricket partnership, New Balance and Fantasy Premier League

25 February 2021. Published by Jeremy Drew, Head of TMT and Joshua Charalambous, Senior Associate and Stuart Harris, Associate and Samuel Coppard, 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.

In a fortnight which saw Djokovic secure a record ninth Australian Open title, we consider Microsoft’s partnership with the ECB, potential boxing regulations and a landmark win for New Balance in the Chinese courts. We also take a look at Villa’s run in with Fantasy Premier League transfers, and Amazon’s ecommerce portal for the Portuguese football team.  

1. Microsoft partner with the ECB in innovation drive

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and Microsoft have announced a new partnership to drive transformational change across the cricketing community through the use of technology. The collaboration focuses on three key areas: Cricket Communities, High Performance and Cultural Transformation and builds upon the ECB’s five-year strategy, which aims to grow the game, connect communities and improve lives through the sport. Through tapping into Microsoft’s technology capabilities, the partnership will allow the ECB to explore how artificial intelligence, real-time data and analytics can inform the performance of England’s national teams. In a broader effort to discover the next Jimmy Anderson or Joe Root from grass-roots cricket, there will be a specific focus on ball-tracking technology. Additionally, digital skills training will be provided to grassroots cricket communities as part of Microsoft’s ‘Get On’ campaign - designed to help 1.5 million people build careers in the technology industry.

2. UK Government urged to address Kinahan’s involvement in boxing

Stephen Farry MP, the deputy leader of the Alliance Party, has urged the UK Government to be “more proactive” in dealing with the involvement of alleged crime boss Daniel Kinahan in boxing. Kinahan, who has previously advised some of the sport’s most prominent names, including Tyson Fury and Billy Joe Saunders, has no criminal convictions but has been linked with drugs cartels. Last week, Farry said that “stronger pressure was required” from the Government, including “a willingness to legislate” on the regulation of advisers in boxing. Farry also accused the Department of Culture Media and Sport of a “passive response” when asked a series of questions. It will certainly be interesting to keep an eye on whether Kinahan’s involvement will be limited going forwards, particularly given that the British Boxing Board of Control has confirmed that it cannot prevent Kinahan from advising boxers because it does not regulate such roles and Kinahan is not licensed with them.

3. New Balance wins copycat trademark case in China

New Balance has won a landmark trademark case against Chinese sportswear company, New Barlun, with the Shanghai Huangpu District Court ordering New Barlun to pay US$3.85 million in damages. New Balance’s successful claim centres on its repeated and consistent use of its “N” trademark. New Barlun manufactured and distributed shoes incorporating the “N” symbol and had previously successfully obtained a trademark registration for a mark “N” before New Balance; however, the Court ruled that New Barlun’s use of the “N” symbol infringed New Balance’s trademark as the logo was incredibly similar in both a “visual and conceptual capacity”. As RPC partner Ben Mark told Vogue Business earlier in the month (see here), “China as a jurisdiction for brand owners has always been troubled because it has always been difficult to police copycat manufacturers and to actually get anywhere in the courts.” The judgment has not taken effect at the time of writing, and we wait to see whether an appeal is made - watch this space! 

4. Will FPL become a fantasy for ‘Insiders’ moving forwards? 

Integrity within sport has encountered significant challenges with the leaking of team news and injuries over the years. However, one recent story from the last fortnight which introduces an interesting twist concerns the Fantasy Premier League (FPL), and the Premier League players who have their own teams. Patrick Bamford made news by commenting light-heartedly on how he captained himself in his FPL team, to some amusement as he scored in Leeds’ win v Crystal Palace this month. But leaked news that Jack Grealish was injured for Villa’s game v Leicester was not so amusing for manager Dean Smith. A Twitter account called FPL Insider, who reportedly uses a scraping-style bot to monitor transfers in/out of Premier League players’ and coaches’ FPL teams, posted that Grealish (who barely misses a game) was conspicuously transferred out of colleagues’ teams in the days before the match. There are already ongoing debates around whether Fantasy League sports amount to gambling, and it will now have shot to the top of many agendas (such as clubs, the EPL, EFL and The FA) to consider whether it presents an integrity threat when players participate or select (or deselect) players from their own team.

5. FPF launches official Portugal Team store on Amazon

The Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) has teamed up with Amazon to launch a new ecommerce portal for the national team. The ‘Official Team Store’ will make national-team branded products available to fans in every global market reached by Amazon. The site has already launched two ranges of products for fans of the Portuguese national team: a Portugal collection of branded casualwear and a range of branded ‘hobby items’ including key rings, footballs and scarves. Nuno Moura, chief marketing officer of the FPF, commented that “the national team has a wide fan base spread across the globe, this new official store will allow us to provide premium access to the best products and articles to all our fans and send them quickly to a number of new geographies.” The move by the FPF is part of a growing trend in the industry, with Tottenham Hotspur, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan already having established official Amazon stores.

Extra time... 
…and finally, data science company Sportable have collaborated with leading rugby ball manufacturer Gilbert to produce a ‘smart’ rugby ball which uses 3D tracking technology to produce deep analytical insights. Whilst the initial reactions are focussing on how it might cut out forward passes (and it definitely might!), coaches will be excited to see data around hang time and distance for kicks, together with the way in which the data can be interfaced with other intelligence to help coaches map relative attack / defence positioning on the pitch. The use of data technology in sporting equipment is significantly on the rise, with us seeing plans for similar collaborations between data companies and manufacturers, including in combat sports (measuring hand speed, punch power etc.) for instance. It raises interesting questions as to who owns what data and how it can be protected. The ball was trialled by Saracens and Coventry in their pre-season match last week. (See more here).