Sports Ticker: Golf's surprise merger, World Curling’s makeover and French Open v online abuse – a speed-read of commercial updates from the sports world

Published on 16 June 2023

In a fortnight which saw Novak Djokovic win the French Open to claim his 23rd Grand Slam title and Manchester City defeat Inter Milan in the Champions League final, we bring you updates on the big news in the world of golf, the Premier League's prosecution of illegal streamers, and the French Open's strategy to combat player cyberbullying. We also feature stories on the World Curling Federation's plans for modernisation and Wrexham AFC's new stadium sponsors.

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.

Talk about relegation: gang sent to prison for illegally streaming Premier League games

Five men have been jailed for illegally streaming sports content to thousands of fans in a private prosecution by the Premier League (PL). The gang operated the discount subscription streaming service "Flawless TV", which showed PL matches and other sports content for £10 a month and gained 50,000 subscribers in the process, earning over £7 million between 2016 and 2021. They particularly benefited from the Saturday "black-out" which prevents the broadcast of football matches in the UK between 14:45 and 17:15. Subscribers were instead able to access live broadcasts from other countries. Hammersmith and Fulham Council lead a trading-standards investigation which saw Mark Gould, leader of the criminal operation, receive an 11-year sentence. The four other gang members received prison sentences ranging from three to five years. Investigation lead Doug Love gave a stark warning to fans currently, or considering, illegally streaming sports content: “You're committing an offence and putting yourself in danger”.

Peace on the Fairway? PGA, DP and LIV Golf make big announcement

The PGA Tour and DP World Tour, which are respectively the leading professional golf tours in the US and Europe, have announced a deal with LIV Golf.  Whilst the precise details of the deal are not yet released, the PGA Tour, currently a tax-exempt non-profit organisation, and DP World Tour will look to form a new, for-profit entity. One official announcement explained that Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) will “initially be the exclusive investor in the new entity”, alongside the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf,  and that PIF will have the exclusive right to further invest in the new entity, including a right of first refusal on any capital that may be invested into the new entity.  The PGA Tour has to date suspended all of its members who have participated in LIV Golf, however it is believed that after the conclusion of the 2023 season, the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf will work cooperatively to allow players who left the PGA Tour and DP World Tour to re-apply for membership. Notably, the deal will lead to a mutually agreed end to all pending litigation between the parties, primarily action brought against the PGA Tour for player suspensions and PGA’s counterclaim that PIF had interfered in its business. The US Senate has since launched an investigation, citing concerns about controls around the sport of golf, and requesting details on how the agreement between the parties was reached and how the new entity will be structured and operated.

World Curling Federation and WePlay sweeping for modernisation 

World Curling Federation has partnered with WePlay as part of its long-term strategy to refresh its brand identity and modernise its image. WePlay, the UK’s leading growth marketing partner, already works with major players in the sports industry such as UFC, ESPN, Paris Saint-Germain and Ironman. World Curling’s new strategic moves come as a result of an "Ideation Seminar" held with the Federation’s board and key stakeholders to determine how to showcase curling as a modern, vibrant sport. The pair will work to develop the sport’s commercial opportunities and create a refreshed brand, including a single cohesive identity across the Federation with new logos, graphics and colour pallets. WePlay’s head of Creative Services reports that they “look forward to leveraging our creative talents and strategic expertise to further bolster World Curling Federation’s esteemed position as a global leader in the sport of curling”.

AI to the rescue – French Open players offered Bodyguard against cyberbullying

The French Tennis Federation (FFT) is offering players participating in the French Open protection from online abuse using AI-powered solution Bodyguard. Players often report an uptick in cyberbullying during tournaments, particularly after suffering a defeat from those who may have lost money betting on them. The technology is available across social platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and TikTok and offers real-time moderation of user comments, analysing them in less than 200 milliseconds for harmful content. Bodyguard has already been implemented across the tournament’s official social media channels and will be available for any player that elects to opt in to the scheme for the duration of the tournament and for a week after its conclusion. FFT director Caroline Flaissier stated they are proud to be the first tournament to implement a solution of this type to protect the mental heath of their players, making clear that “[w]e will not accept any form of violence at our tournament.”

Own goal for FIFA as Swiss regulator criticises Qatar 2022 'green' claims

The Swiss Fairness Commission (SKL), Switzerland’s advertising regulator, has found that FIFA was in breach of the Swiss Federal Law on Unfair Competition with its claims that the Qatar World Cup would be the first "carbon neutral" World Cup. The SKL’s investigation resulted from advertising complaints lodged in five European countries, including the UK. The complaints centred on the argument that FIFA's claim of a carbon-neutral World Cup is false because of an underestimation of emissions and a lack of credibility in its offsets, which, say campaigners, means consumers and fans are being misled. In its decision, which is not legally binding, the SLK advised FIFA to refrain from making similar statements in the future, particularly relating to the "carbon neutrality" of the Qatar World Cup. FIFA are reportedly considering appealing the ruling.

Extra time...

…and finally, everybody's favourite actor-owned football club and Disney+ stars Wrexham AFC are working hard to develop ties with the US. STōK Cold Brew Coffee will sponsor the world's oldest international football stadium, Wrexham's Racecourse Ground, from 1 July 2023. Naturally, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney featured in Wrexham's humorours Twitter announcement. In honour of the team's history, the stadium will be renamed STōK Cae Ras | STōK Racecourse – Cae Ras being the Welsh for Racecourse. The sponsorship agreement also see STōK sponsor the pre-season Wrexham AFC American tour, where the team will travel to the US for the first time in its history. While not currently available in the UK, STōK say the sponsorship is all about their philosophy of “bold moves” and that they will be “cheering on the Red Dragons and raising our cold brews from afar.” The announcement was closely followed by the announcement that United Airlines will become the new front of shirt sponsor.

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