Sports Ticker (16 July 2021) - Soul Cap, Jay-Z tackles rugby, and Wimbledon media rights - a speed-read of key commercial updates from the sports world

Published on 16 July 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 that has seen England reach their first final of a major tournament in 55 years (see here) and Djokovic win a record-equalling Grand Slam title at Wimbledon (see here), we feature a welcome introduction of safeguarding policies for leading esports organisation Fnatic, Sportradar's partnership with the NHL, and FINA's ban on Soul Cap swimming caps. We also feature Wimbledon's position on media rights and sponsors, and Jay-Z-founded Roc Nation's most recent rugby partnership.

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.

Pro gaming: safety first

 Fnatic, the London-based esports organisation, has introduced a new set of safeguarding policies specifically designed for the competitive gaming industry. The policies, the Children and Young People Safeguarding Policy and the Adults at Risk Safeguarding Policy, were created in partnership with leading experts, key advisers to the government on online harms and safeguarding leads at various professional sports teams, including Premier League clubs. The policies each demonstrate Fnatic's commitment to protecting current and future gamers, and are particularly important given that: (i) the regulation of the competitive gaming industry is inherently disparate and patchwork in nature, so open access to best-in-class policies will help increase standards; and (ii) esports attract a large number of younger players. The esports industry has seen a significant uplift in safeguarding and abuse-related allegations involving leading content creators and players in the last 18 months, and so it is welcome to see a leading organisation publicly developing policies which prioritise player welfare. Hopefully the move helps to continue the drive for further development of safeguarding across the industry. Read more

Sportradar and the NHL: the latest cool sports data partnership

 The sports data and content supply industry is booming, with new partnerships and exciting acquisitions being announced by all the major players in the market with increased regularity. In the last fortnight, Sportradar, the well-known sports data and content supplier, has announced a ten-year global partnership with the US ice hockey league, the National Hockey League (NHL). Sportradar was already the NHL’s official data distributor (and has been since 2015). The deal sees Sportradar acquire the rights to distribute the NHL’s official data and statistics to technology, sports betting and media companies worldwide. It is believed that the partnership will put “strong emphasis” on fan engagement. Speaking about the deal, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman commented: “Sportradar has the unique expertise to help us deliver stats, insights and video content to our fans, who are extremely tech-savvy and constantly crave new and compelling ways to engage with our sport”. The deal also follows Sportradar's announcement of a new rights deal with the French Ligue Nationale de Basket (read more here).

FINA decision overboard and treading water

 FINA, the International Swimming Federation, has fallen into hot water over its recent decision to prevent Soul Cap swimming caps from certification for competition use. Soul Caps, which are designed to fit over and protect afros, weaves, braids, dreadlocks and curly hair, aim to make swimming more inclusive. FINA claimed to have had no knowledge of athletes competing at international events requiring caps of such size and configuration – that may not be as surprising given the well-reported and recognised need to improve diversity and inclusion across the sport, including at the highest level of competition. FINA rejected the application as the caps don't follow the “natural form of the head”. Following heavy criticism of this decision, FINA acknowledged the “importance of inclusivity and representation” and will review the Soul Cap situation and that for similar products to ensure that “everyone has a chance to enjoy the water”. Alice Dearing, Team GB's first black female swimmer who will feature at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, and co-founder of the Black Swimming Association, hopes that FINA's ban does not discourage young black swimmers from competing. Dearing, whose goal is to ensure that swimming is open and available to all, stated “I don't want people to look at elite level swimming and think: “It's not open for me” … Soul Cap has been made and even something as simple as that wasn’t around when I started swimming”. We hope that the response to the FINA decision can support the continued efforts to change attitudes and remove potential barriers to inclusive participation in swimming, and that adequate swimwear is available for all, both recreationally and competitively (read more here).

Calling the shots: Wimbledon limits deals with corporate sponsors

 Wimbledon (surely everyone's favourite tennis grand slam – although we may be biased), wants to remain quintessentially English, and to do so, it says that it will continue to limit the number of corporate sponsors it has. Contrary to the vast majority of the leading sports products, Wimbledon does not hold regular RFPs and bidding auctions for media rights to its coverage. Wimbledon has developed and maintained long-term broadcast partnerships, such as with the BBC in the UK and ESPN in the US. Moreover, it limits the number of sponsors it has by limiting its partnerships to suppliers that have clearly defined contributions to the Championships – Slazenger's partnership with Wimbledon is often cited as the longest running partnership in sporting goods history, ever - where would the Championships be without the famous Slazenger tennis balls? Others include Ralph Lauren for umpire uniforms, Stella Artois for beer, Robinsons for soft drinks, Jaguar for cars to chauffeur officials, and Lavazza for coffee. In adopting this strategy, Steve Martin, global chief executive of the M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment agency said that: “It almost makes you want to associate with them even more”. Wimbledon has already extended its two most crucial partnerships with the BBC until 2027 and with ESPN until 2035 (see here). We are excited to see what developments there will be with Wimbledon’s sponsors in the future. Read more

Roc Nation clearly giving rugby more than just a try

 Roc Nation, the leading entertainment company founded by Jay-Z in 2008, has joined a scrum with the United Rugby Championship (URC). The URC is the new competition starting in September this year which features 16 teams from across Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Italy and South Africa. The URC announced that this was a “strategic consulting partnership” between the two companies, which will see Roc Nation, a business which represents the likes of Rihanna and Shakira, “assist in the development of a Player Advisory Group, offering players a seat at the table to voice opinion and share their views on the promotion and marketing of the game”. This is not Roc Nation's first foray or association with rugby – in November 2020 Roc Nation announced that it had signed up Lions and Saracens star Maro Itoje, and the company also works with stars such as Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi. Read more

Extra time...

… and finally, spectators or no spectators for the Tokyo Olympics? In contrast to the previous decision to allow 10,000 spectators at the Games (see here), following an increase in COVID cases leading to a state of emergency set to last until 22 August 2021, Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa has announced that spectators will not be allowed at the venues in and around Tokyo (see here). Some stadiums outside of the capital will however be allowed to host up to 50% of capacity, provided this does not exceed 10,000 people. Although the pandemic has caused significant challenges, Sally Munday, UK Sport's Chief Executive, said that Team GB has "tremendous potential" as UK Sport hopes that Team GB will win up to 70 medals at the Olympics and up to 140 at the Paralympics (see here). Channel 4 has also unveiled its coverage plans for the Paralympic Games which includes up to 16 live streams via a dedicated Paralympics microsite as well as over 1,000 hours of coverage on TV and digital channels (read more here). Channel 4's coverage of previous Paralympics has drawn significant praise, especially because of the way in which the broadcaster has aligned its shows with one of its key aims and visions to represent unheard voices (here). We can't wait to see how Team GB perform in both Games.

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