Sports Ticker (14 January 2022) - Djokovic's Australian visa row, Arsenal's ASA reprimand and Ferrari's NFT foray - a speed-read of commercial updates from the sports world

Published on 14 January 2022

During a fortnight which has seen Peter "Snakebite" Wright secure his second victory at the PDC World Darts Championship, the Premier League obtain summary judgment against PPL in the Commercial Court and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Antonio Brown bizarrely exit the MetLife Stadium leading to the termination of his contract with the franchise, we feature the latest on Djokovic's Australian Open debacle, the passing off claim made against "The Good, the Bad and the Rugby" podcast and the salary cap investigation into Premiership Rugby league-leaders Leicester Tigers. We also take a look at Ferrari's foray into the ever-expanding NFT metaverse, the censorship of Arsenal's crypto adverts and the New York Times' acquisition of The Athletic.

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Novak Djokovic in visa stand-off with Australian authorities
On arrival to compete in the Australian Open, men's world number one tennis player, Novak Djokovic, had his visa revoked following his team's reported failure to request a visa that permits medical exemptions from vaccination requirements. Djokovic, who has not spoken publicly about his vaccination status, spent hours being questioned on his visa status and exemption evidence, and was forced to stay in a hotel for immigration detainees after being blocked by border officials.

The Australian authorities' decision to revoke Djokovic's visa was subsequently overturned and an order made for the release of his detention. However, after the tennis player admitted there were mistakes on his immigration forms and having met a journalist despite testing positive for Covid, Djokovic's visa was revoked for a second time this morning. The Serbian star can still appeal the decision in his bid to become the most successful men's tennis player in history with 21 Grand Slam titles. Though he will need to win his battle with the Australian Border Force first.
Leicester Tigers forced to hand-off salary cap investigation
The rugby community is being distracted from Leicester Tigers' impressive first half of the season as a result of the announcement of Premiership Rugby's investigation into "historic image rights payments", which may amount to a breach of the league's salary cap regulations. The league's salary cap director, Andrew Rodgers, is investigating a third-party company called Worldwide Image Management over payments made to Leicester players between 2016 and 2020. The payments are alleged to have circumvented the salary cap in place at the time.

Rogers will look to clarify whether the payments constituted an increase in individual salaries, thereby breaking the salary cap. The regulations in force at the time of the alleged breaches will apply, meaning that if Leicester are found to have breached the salary cap, the harsher sanctions under the new regulations (2020/21 onwards) are unlikely to apply. It is an interesting time for financial regulation in rugby: there have already been announcements of several high profile players moving between clubs as the balancing exercise of the changes to the salary cap and rules around marquee players is forcing clubs to assess various options.

Arsenal's foul picked by ASA on crypto-related adverts
The ASA has recently determined that two adverts from Arsenal FC trivialised investments in cryptoassets, took advantage of consumers' inexperience, and concluded that the adverts were "irresponsible". The adverts promoted 'fan tokens' which could be purchased in return for participation in official club decisions. The more tokens owned by a fan, the greater the weight of their vote.

However, in order to purchase the tokens, fans first needed to buy digital currency through a crypto platform. The advert on Arsenal's website contained various warnings about the risks of doing so, but an advert published on social media did not. The ASA was unconvinced by Arsenal's argument that its tokens weren't cryptocurrencies because they were used to encourage fan participation as opposed to facilitate payment, ordering that the ads could not appear again. Any clubs who are prospectively looking to appoint a fan token partner should take into account the ASA's decision and guidance to ensure that they do not fall foul of the rules.
Ferrari partner with Velas in NFT venture

Ferrari F1, Scuderia Ferrari, has announced its partnership with Swiss blockchain company Velas Network AG for the upcoming season. Sponsorship is a key part of the deal with Velas becoming a Ferrari premium partner as well as the title sponsor of the Ferrari Esports Series. Additionally, the deal is said to include the launching of exclusive digital products and experiences for Ferrari fans. While specific announcements have not been made with regard to the products the partnership will provide, NFT's are likely to be one of them. NFT and blockchain content is not new to Formula 1 with McLaren and Red Bull having sponsorship and NFT agreements with Tezos. Despite the rise in popularity of NFT's and other blockchain products, they are still a foreign concept to a lot of people. However, this deal marks a positive move for Ferrari who have the brand power to draw in those that might not be fans of Formula 1.

"The Good, the Bad and the Rugby" podcast in passing off claim

The popular rugby union podcast "House of Rugby" – which was originally hosted by former England players James Haskell and Mike Tindall as well as TV presenter Alex Payne - is at the centre of a High Court dispute involving a claim for passing off. The podcast was created and broadcast in 2018 by Joe Media, an entertainment company which subsequently fell into administration and was acquired by private equity firm Greencastle Capital. Greencastle now seeks damages from the three hosts, who are now hosting their own popular podcast "The Good, the Bad & the Rugby". The trial is expected to start on 7 February this year.

Extra time...

...and finally, in its largest acquisition in nearly 30 years, the New York Times has agreed to purchase sports news website The Athletic for a sum of $550m. The acquisition brings with it around 1.2m digital subscribers, taking the NY Times' total number of subscribers to nearly 10m. With a reported 2021 revenue of around $77m, the purchase price is seven times the revenue of The Athletic; higher than the five times multiple that was seen with the recent sale and valuation of fellow news sites Politico and Axios respectively. According to the NY Times' chief executive Meredith Levien, The Athletic will operate as a separate division to the newspaper's general sports section and continue to offer a deeper-dive into fans' "favourite teams, leagues and players."

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