Sports Ticker (28 January 2022) - Premiership Rugby's ITV union, Southgate crypto nightmare and Microsoft esports deal - a speed-read of commercial updates from the sports world

Published on 28 January 2022

In a fortnight which has seen Nick Kyrgios enjoy his home crowd at the Australian Open and Premier League stars light up the African Cup of Nations, we feature Microsoft's plans to acquire Activision Blizzard, the Premier League's pandemic postponement rules and ITV's broadcasting deal with Premiership Rugby. We also look at Southgate's crypto scam response, F1's sprint event stalemate and the Exeter Chiefs rebrand.

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.

ITV and Gallagher Premiership form rugby union

For the first time in its history, this year's Gallagher Premiership Rugby final will be shown on free-to-air television, following the announcement of a deal between the league and ITV Sport that will run until the end of the 2023-24 season. The final is one of five games that ITV will broadcast this season, along with a weekly highlights show. All live matches will be simultaneously broadcast on BT Sport, continuing the relationship between the broadcaster and the league since 2013 and has led to the competition seeing a growth in average match viewership of 30% year on year. ITV Sport's deal adds the Gallagher Premiership to an impressive roster of upcoming rugby coverage – including the Six Nations and next year's Rugby World Cup. In other related news, Series 2 of ITV's Driving Force has kicked off in the past fortnight with the most recent episode featuring Saracens legend Maggie Alphonsi (here). Celebrating some of the most successful female athletes of all time, including Katie Taylor, Charlotte Dujardin CBE and Dame Kelly Holmes DBE, the show is a must watch.

F1 sprint races in jeopardy for 2022 season

Although six sprint events (shorter races used as an alternative to Saturday's usual qualifying, which then sets the grid for Sunday's Grand Prix) were agreed in principle between the various F1 teams in the lead up to the new season, reports suggest it is now unlikely an agreement will be reached on the increased number of events. The impasse relates to some teams - including Mercedes AMG Petronas and Red Bull Racing - demanding more money for the events by increasing the budget cap from the current £103 million to c. £108 million. To change the number of sprints for the 2023 season only requires five teams to agree; however, if no agreement is reached, there is a strong chance that we will not see any sprint events at all next season – let's hope an agreement can be reached!

Southgate seeks legal advice on crypto scam

England's football manager Gareth Southgate, who successfully led the team through to the 2020 Euro final and the 2018 World Cup semi-final, has sought legal advice after his name was used as part of a cryptocurrency scam – arising out of an email which was sent to an unspecified number of email addresses incorrectly claiming he had made a fortune using a cryptocurrency trading platform called "Bitcoin Bank". A spokesman for Southgate has confirmed that: "the details about Mr Southgate in this story are completely untrue and his name has been used without permission". Scams such as these, particularly when using fake celebrity endorsements for promotion, raise the question of whether there is a need for further financial regulation within the crypto space.

Microsoft swoops for Call of Duty franchise owner

As part of a proposed £50.5 billion record deal in the space, Microsoft has announced plans to acquire Activision Blizzard Inc - the leading game development and interactive entertainment content publisher best known for games such as Call of Duty, Warcraft and Candy Crush. The all-cash acquisition would "accelerate the growth in Microsoft’s gaming business across mobile, PC, console and cloud and will provide building blocks for the metaverse" according to the Microsoft announcement, and propel Microsoft to the world’s third-largest gaming company by revenue, behind Tencent and Sony in an industry worth $200+ billion. In another significant deal in the gaming space, ESL, a leading independent esports company, has announced plans to merge with FACEIT, a digital destination for competitive gamers. More on that here.

 New guidance on Premier League pandemic postponement rules

The Premier League has announced changes to the COVID-19 postponement rule after 22 top-flight games were postponed in December and January due to the pandemic. The new rule means that Premier League clubs must prove they have at least four COVID-19 cases to get matches called off. A Premier League statement stated that the rules are designed "to protect the wellbeing of players and staff" and "maintain the sporting integrity". Previously, clubs could request for matches to be postponed if they lacked 13 available players and a keeper; however, this was not without controversy – with clubs openly criticising each other for requesting games to be called off.

Extra time...

…and finally, following widespread criticism for using Native American imagery in their branding, Exeter Chiefs have announced they are to launch a "new identity" later this year. The move will see the Native American logo replaced by branding inspired by the Celtic Iron Age Dumnonii Tribe, which the club says were spread across the Devon, Cornwall and Somerset area for hundreds of years before the Roman occupation in 43AD. The move comes after the Chiefs' mascot, Big Chief, was also dropped in 2020. Speaking on the rebrand, the club's chairman and chief executive, Tony Rowe stated the club was "excited to welcome in the next era of rugby within Exeter".