Sports Ticker (10 March 2022) - Disney's gamble, Netflix's gaming play and rugby league governance shake-up - a speed-read of commercial updates from the sports world

Published on 11 March 2022

In this edition of the Sports Ticker, we feature stories relating to other developments in the world of sport, including: TikTok's sponsorship of the Pakistan-Australia Test cricket series, Netflix's acquisition of Next Games and Disney's contemplation of a move into sports betting. We also take a look at Manchester City's official partnership with crypto exchange OKX, the technicalities of F1's new regulations for the upcoming season and the realignment of governance in rugby league.

This fortnight we have seen sport across the globe impacted immensely by Russia's invasion of (and the unfolding human tragedy in) Ukraine. At RPC we are united in our condemnation of the invasion and our thoughts are for the safety of all the people in and who have fled Ukraine, as well as colleagues, clients and friends who have families and loved ones who have been affected.

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.

Disney considering gambling on sports betting

Disney is reportedly contemplating a move into the gambling world for its ESPN sports network. ESPN's 'cable TV' subscriber numbers have fallen every year since 2011 (when they were 23% higher than today) and look set to continue to fall, according to analysts. In an attempt to breathe new life into the broadcaster, Disney executives are considering the possibility of either entering into a licensing deal with, or merging with, an existing sports betting company. Bob Chapek, Disney chief executive, has denied suggestions that the company was considering the sale of ESPN, and instead has expressed that younger consumers and their "desire to have gambling as part of their sports experience" was the way forward for the broadcaster. Given Disney's traditionally family-friendly image, any such move could be a controversial one.

Rugby league governance to undergo reshape

Following months of deliberations, the Rugby Football League (RFL) and Super League have recommended that clubs vote in favour of a major change in the sport's governance at a Special General Meeting due to take place later this month. The key driver behind the proposal is to reshape Rugby League's governance model in order to maximise the commercial interests for the sport across England, Super League, Challenge Cup, Women's and Wheelchair Super League, Championship and League 1. The realignment would involve the formation of a new joint venture company which would work closely but separately from the RFL. Under the proposals, the RFL would remain responsible for the community game as well as elite performance whilst Super League would focus on "delivering the finest sport to our partners like Sky" according to Super League chairman, Ken Davy. For a sport with so much untapped potential, the new recommendations could pave the way for pivotal change in the game.

TikTok sponsors Pakistan v Australia series

The cricket Test series between Pakistan and Australia is now underway. Before the series began, the Pakistan Cricket Board announced that TikTok would be its title sponsor for the duration of the series. This is the first time that the social media giant will sponsor an international cricket series, although there have been previous deals with other tournaments including the UEFA Champions League and the Six Nations. During the Australia-Pakistan series, TikTok will offer a platform for creators and cricket fans to engage with and share cricket-related content. The Pakistan Cricket Board will also launch its first TikTok account, where it will post exclusive content and footage of the Pakistan cricket team.

Netflix moves into gaming space with Next Games acquisition

Netflix has become the latest Big Tech company to make headway into the gaming sector through its acquisition of Next Games, the Finnish developer behind mobile games based on Netflix's hit show, Stranger Things. The move comes as consolidation is accelerating across the gaming industry. The €65 million deal is Netflix's largest in gaming since announcing its expansion into interactive entertainment in July 2021, as Netflix plans to bundle video games into its existing TV and film service as a way of luring a new, and retaining its existing, subscriber base. The deal points to Netflix's strategy of releasing games with narrative ties to its existing portfolio, allowing fans of those shows to "go deeper" into the worlds, characters and storylines of Netflix's original movies and series, according to Netflix's Chief Product Officer.

Man City partners with crypto exchange

Riding the recent wave of popularity in cryptocurrencies, Manchester City FC has recently signed a deal with the crypto exchange OKX for it to become the club's official cryptocurrency exchange partner. The deal is OKX's first in the world of sports, and the parties are set to collaborate on a number of exclusive experiences for OKX's customer base in addition to the in-stadium presence. Yet undecided future innovation projects are also in the pipeline to further merge the worlds of football and cryptocurrencies. Many crypto-related companies have entered the arena of sport recently, including Tezos who signed a similar deal with rival Manchester United. As highlighted in Edition 54 in which we featured Arsenal under the regulatory microscope for its crypto advertising, clubs need to approach the advertisement of their partnerships with crypto-related organisations with care so as to avoid falling foul of the Advertising Codes.

Extra time...

…and finally, Formula 1 is introducing new regulations for 2022, marking one of the biggest technical changes in F1 history. The new regulations will create a striking new-look race car following a drastic aerodynamics overhaul. The aim is to improve the spectacle and unpredictability of the show, by closing the field and allowing for more wheel-to-wheel racing, with a knock-on effect of greater overtaking opportunities. The wide-sweeping changes also address issues including fuel sustainability, race-weekend format, tightening teams' budgets, and clarifying the Safety Car restarts process following the drama of the 2021 season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. With all the new changes ahead, expect even more drama this season!

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