Sports Ticker #99: Golf's big hitters, Women's FA breakaway and tennis elite tour – a speed read of commercial updates from the sports world

Published on 08 December 2023

In a fortnight which saw the Premier League agree a new £6.7 billion deal with Sky and TNT Sports, France named the preferred candidate for the 2030 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, and 518 million people watch the ICC Cricket World Cup live through Disney Star, we bring you updates on Trent Alexander-Arnold's £26 million Adidas deal, new rules for golf balls, and a potential F1-style tennis tour.

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.

Women's teams to change FA association

The two top tiers of UK women's football, the Women's Super League (WSL) and Women's Championship, are preparing to break away from the English Football Association (FA). All 24 clubs across the two divisions voted in favour of the move to assume control of professional women's football from next season. Former Nike director Nikki Doucet has been appointed CEO of the so-called NewCo, which will be helped off the ground by a £15 million loan from the FA. The 24 clubs will act as shareholders, similar to the model of the Premier League. The new structure is seen as an important step in reaching the commercial potential of the domestic women's football industry, which was independently reported this year as likely to be worth £1 billion over the next decade. Baroness Sue Campbell, the FA's director of women's football, said "The women's professional game is in the strongest place it has ever been but we firmly believe that the NewCo will take it to another level entirely".  It follows closely the launch of Premiership Women's Rugby (PWR), the domestic competition for women's rugby in England which similarly is owned collectively by the PWR clubs in co-operation with the RFU.

Adi-das is a lot of money

One of Liverpool and England's biggest stars, Trent Alexander-Arnold, has signed a lucrative new boot sponsorship deal with Adidas, thought to be worth £26 million. The deal marks the end of Alexander-Arnold's six-year-long relationship with previous sponsor Under Armour. The star debuted the Adidas Predator boots in the Reds' clash against Manchester City on 25 November 2023. The deal makes Alexander-Arnold the recipient of one of Europe's highest sponsorship payments by a manufacturer and sees him join fellow countryman, Jude Bellingham, as one of the faces for the Predator line of boots. The boots are set for full release next year, which will coincide with the 30th anniversary of the first pair of Predators. Alexander-Arnold will not only feature as the new ambassador for the Predator boot range of the German brand but will also take on the role of ambassador for Adidas' Performance and Originals collections.

Golf balls go too par

The R&A and United States Golf Association have announced a new rule that will reduce the distance golf balls are able to travel, marking the first change since 2004 to what conforms as a golf ball. This decision follows a declaration made in 2020 of the intention to "break the ever-increasing cycle of hitting distance", caused by improvements in athletic ability and equipment technology.  R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said the rationale was based on five years of consultations with manufacturers and professional tours, as well as study of the impact of distance on the game, claiming there has never been a rule change more reflective of feedback. Slumbers pointed out the reality that golf courses need to be lengthened to keep up with advances, heightening golf's environmental impact. The new measures will come into force in January 2028 for professional players, who will see an average reduction of around ten yards. There is good news for amateur players, who should expect to lose less than five yards when the balls are phased in from 2030.

No Verstoppen power-unit suppliers

General Motors (GM) has registered as a Formula 1 power-unit supplier for the 2028 season, collaborating with the Andretti team's bid to enter the sport. GM's Cadillac brand has begun preparing an engine aligned with F1's 2026 regulations, emphasising hybrid technology and sustainable fuels, awaiting approval from F1's commercial rights holder, Liberty Media. Meanwhile, GM's competitors McLaren and Mercedes-Benz are set to continue their alliance, extending their power unit deal until the conclusion of the 2030 season. This strategic move solidifies McLaren as Mercedes' inaugural customer under the upcoming engine regulations slated for the 2026 F1 season, proving both are set to attempt to re-create Verstappen's record-breaking 18 wins this season.

Ten-ish tournaments seek F1-style global competition  

Tennis's four Grand Slams – Wimbledon, the US Open, the French Open and the Australian Open – are attempting a partnership with ten other tournaments to create an elite global tour. Although details are yet to be revealed, the vision has been likened to a tennis version of Formula 1. Tennis's leading executives are said to have realised that tennis is falling short of its potential, with criticisms including it being confusing for fans and having an overtaxing schedule which causes injury and burnout in top players. Senior figures are reportedly concerned by tennis's vulnerabilities to mass disruption akin to those seen in golf and are seeking the most revolutionary transformation of the game in thirty years. In other tennis news, Sky Sports has secured the rights to two elite-tier tennis tours: the WTA and ATP. From 2024 Sky will exclusively broadcast more than 4,000 matches across 80 events a year.

Extra time...

...and finally, global revenues for women's elite sports will surpass £1 billion in 2024 according to Deloitte's projections, marking a historic milestone. Deloitte's TMT Predictions report attributes this growth to a substantial rise in attendance and television viewership across various sports, as well as more lucrative commercial and broadcast deals within the sector. The ever-growing popularity of women's sport is reflected in a recent research report from MKTG Sports + Entertainment, which found that 41% of Australians perceive men's and women's sports as equal as of October, up 8% from March. Separately, the managing director of sport for Amazon Prime Video, Alex Green, has commented that he “would love” to offer more women’s sports on the streaming platform in the near future.