Sports Ticker (26 Mar 2021) - Women's Super League, FIFA influencer advertising and the Six Nations

Published on 26 March 2021

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 where Manchester United has announced its five-year shirt partnership with global tech company TeamViewer (see here), we consider the landmark deal for the Women's Super League, influencers advertising in-game purchases on FIFA, and CVC's Six Nations stake. We also look at Adidas and Peloton joining forces and the request for an inquiry into the collapse of the Football Index.

As always, if there are any areas you’d like more information on (or if you have any questions or feedback), please let us know or get in touch with your usual RPC contact.

Landmark TV deal for the Women's Super League

The Barclays FA Women's Super League (WSL), BBC and Sky Sports have finalised a 3-year broadcast deal which is estimated to be worth in excess of £7 million per year. Starting next season, the women's game will expand its presence across free-to-air television with up to 44 matches broadcast on Sky Sports as the primary broadcaster and a minimum of 18 live on BBC One or Two throughout prime TV slots. The BBC will also broadcast the Women's UEFA European 2022 tournament. Kelly Simmons, the FA's Director of the Women's professional game, described the deal as "a game-changing agreement that will transform the WSL". This deal has the potential to make the WSL the most-watched women's sports league globally – ahead of the hundreds of thousands that currently watch the Women's National Basketball Association and the National Women's Soccer League – particularly after the recent success of the 2019 Women's World Cup, where a record-breaking 1.12 billion viewers tuned in.

Shades of grey for influencer promotions of in-game FIFA purchases

Electronic Arts (EA), creators of the FIFA video game, has been put in the spotlight following complaints concerning influencers posting videos opening FIFA Ultimate team packs. EA regularly works with influencers and content creators – for instance, by sending them free copies of the game – which influencers then promote to their followers. The recent issue saw influencers, such as Iain Stirling (Love Island / CBBC), opening packs without making it clear that such packs had to be purchased using FIFA Points. FIFA Points can be earned for free; however, accumulating enough points takes a significant amount of time in comparison to purchasing them via the in-game store. The Gambling Commission has published position papers confirming that the process of purchasing packs in FIFA (which contain a random assortment of in-game items) is not gambling – but highlights the significant grey area around the issue. EA has repeatedly denied that player packs are gambling, and has likened them more to Kinder Eggs, the chocolate with a surprise toy inside. An EA spokeswoman has also commented that users can track or limit their spend through FIFA Playtime and access to online gameplay can be restricted using parental controls.

CVC secures £365m stake in Six Nations Championship

Private equity giant CVC Capital Partners have acquired a £365 million stake in the Six Nations Championship with Six Nations CEO lauding the deal as the start of a “new era” in the sport. This equates to a 14% stake in the championships, while the rugby unions of England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales will retain the other 86% of the business. CVC’s sports portfolio is continuing to grow, with the firm having previously invested in Premiership Rugby (see Ticker Edition 14) and the International Volleyball Federation. Six Nations Rugby announced that the objective of the partnership “is to invest to grow and develop the game; to further enhance the sporting spectacle of all the tournaments, the teams and the brands; and to build the data, technology, and broader commercial capabilities to support these ambitious plans.” Given the impact of COVID-19 on the sports industry, this investment comes at a pivotal moment for Rugby Union.

Adidas and Peloton join forces

Adidas has strengthened its position within the fitness industry after confirming its partnership with Peloton. Commenting on the partnership, General Manager of Global Training at Adidas, Aimee Arana said “I'm proud to announce our partnership with Peloton, the leading interactive fitness platform” and “our shared values are around well-being, inclusivity, and community provide an incredible foundation, and we look forward to bringing these brands together.” First up on the collaboration agenda are the adidas x Peloton SS21 collection and a set of on-demand classes available via Peloton. It will be interesting to see how these two well-known brands continue to work together to add value to the fitness community, and particularly (given Peloton's interactive presence) their plans for when fitness enthusiasts can return to the gyms. Peloton's sales soared 66% during the pandemic, but it will be interesting to see whether at-home exercise is here to stay.

Request for an inquiry into the collapse of the Football Index

Following the collapse of betting exchange website Football Index, a number of MP's on the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm have written to the Culture Secretary requesting an urgent public inquiry. The platform, which marketed itself as a football stock exchange, suspended operations and recently appointed administrators after a series of crashes in the overall value of its market. Thousands of customers, who have reportedly wagered tens of millions with Football Index to buy ‘shares’ in leading footballers, fear that any hope of retrieving money trapped in the platform has 'vanished'. In their letter, the MPs estimate that Football Index account holders have lost £3,000 each on average. One of the key questions likely to arise in any potential public inquiry is whether Football Index should also have fallen under the auspices of the FCA (as well as or instead of the Gambling Commission) given that the firm's emphasis was on seeking to mirror a market-making platform for trading.


Extra time... 
... and finally, we are one step closer to watching the world heavyweight title fight between Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury following confirmation that a two-fight deal has been signed. At the time of writing, the date and venue are yet to be agreed upon but this looks to be one of the biggest boxing fights since Lennox Lewis became the last undisputed heavyweight champion from 1999 – 2000 as it will be the first heavyweight fight with all four belts up for grabs. Fury (owner of one belt) remains unbeaten in his 31 fights and Joshua (owner of three belts) has won 24 out of 25. (Read more here).