Sports Ticker #96: Russia's Olympic suspension, FIFA's five time zones and 2023's most marketable athlete – a speed-read of commercial updates from the sports world

Published on 26 October 2023

In a fortnight which saw the first female referee of a men's international match at Wembley, Saudi Arabia launch its World Cup 2034 bid and NZ's All Blacks named the world's most valuable rugby team, we bring you updates on the suspension of the Russian Olympic Committee, the return of UK professional netball and the potential five time zones of the FIFA World Cup 2023.

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.

International Olympic Committee suspends Russian Olympic Committee

The International Olympic Committee (IOC)'s executive board has suspended the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) "with immediate effect until further notice". The ROC took over sports bodies from four illegally annexed territories of Ukraine in an attempt to incorporate Ukrainian athletes under the ROC banner. The IOC say this violated the territorial integrity of the Ukrainian Olympic Committee and breached the Olympic charter. Russia will no longer be eligible for the $500,000 of IOC funding typically provided to each national committee and will not receive an official invitation to next year's Paris Olympic Games. In response, Putin has said that the Olympics are being used as an instrument of political pressure and ethnic discrimination. A spokesperson for the IOC said that the decision on neutral Russian athletes competing would be made nearer to the 2024 Games. Ukraine has threatened to boycott the Games if a full ban on Russian athletes is not enforced.

The hosts with the most (time zones) 

The host nations for two future international men's football tournaments, UEFA Euro 2028 and the FIFA World Cup 2030, were recently announced within a few days of each other. In exciting news for the home nations and neighbours, the UK and Ireland were picked to host Euro 2028, though by the time the decision was made they were the only bidders still in the running after all other candidates pulled out of the race. In a highly controversial decision, FIFA announced that the 2030 edition of the World Cup would be hosted by a total of six different nations, spread across three continents and five time zones. Whilst the majority of the tournament will be hosted by Portugal, Spain and Morocco, the first three games will take place in Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina, to mark the centenary of the original World Cup (hosted by Uruguay). Critics have taken aim at the logistical difficulties and environmental impact that would inevitably result from such an arrangement. The proposal will first need to be approved at a FIFA congress in 2024.

Netball Super League to go fully professional in 2025

England Netball has announced plans to relaunch the Netball Super League, the UK's elite level of competitive netball. A press release highlights England Netball's ambition to build "the most competitive, commercially vibrant and captivating professional netball league in the world". The relaunch will be driven by "transformational yet sustainable" changes with a focus on innovation, elevated fan experiences and higher salaries to allow athletes to play fully professionally. Proposals include bigger venues, enhanced match-day events and competitive changes to create more exciting games. England Netball hopes to rival Australia's Suncorp Super Netball League, where many of England's best netballers currently play due to lack of professional opportunities in the UK. Netball is the most-participated-in team sport for women in England with over three million women playing annually. Almost six million people watched England play in the final of the Netball World Cup this summer.

DAZN to bid for rights to stream both Italy's Serie A and Premier League

Sports media company DAZN has bid to renew its streaming rights to Italy's top-flight football league, Serie A, and is expected to bid for further streaming rights to England's Premier League. DAZN, founded in 2016 by Ukrainian-born British-American businessman Len Blavatnik, is looking to add further football streaming rights to complement its exclusive worldwide coverage of Japanese football, worth $2bn. DAZN is joined by Sky Italia in its bid for Serie A rights, although both their bids (DAZN bidding €700m per season for a primary package and Sky bidding €200m per season for a secondary package, together making €4.5bn over the next five years) fall well below Serie A's goal of €7.2bn over that period. Serie A has threatened to offer a direct-to-consumer service if DAZN and Sky can't offer attractive bids. In England, DAZN is expected to try and snap up some streaming rights from Amazon Prime for weekday games, since a discount offered by the Premier League to Amazon is due to expire and make those rights less attractive to Amazon. DAZN's CFO, Darren Waterman, said the Premier League represented a "great opportunity".

Structure changes to be welcomed if Formula 1 to fire on all cylinders again, says FIA boss

In a twist that could rev up F1, FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem is advocating for more teams and fewer races and has expressed optimism about Michael Andretti's bid to enter an eleventh team. The FIA recently greenlit the application, sending it over to Liberty Media-owned Formula One Management for commercial negotiations. The FIA head-honcho highlighted the accelerated share price of Liberty Media which was fuelled by the approval, as well as the scope for technological and commercial development in the sport if horizons were expanded. F1 teams have weighed in, wary of potential consequences and over-crowding (not to mention their diluted share of any prize money). Ben Sulayem instead questions the current number of races, set to increase from 22 to 24 next season, suggesting staff burnout is more concerning than team congestion. As the chequered flag waves, the Andretti entry may signal a lucrative new chapter in F1's rich history.

Extra time...

...and finally, Argentinian football legend Lionel Messi has been named the world's most marketable athlete for 2023 in SportsPro's 14th annual list. The list was compiled in collaboration with NorthStar Solutions Group to provide a comprehensive and scientific assessment of the value sports stars offer to brands in today's digital age. The list features athletes across thirteen sports, with NBA star LeBron James taking second place, and US Women's striker Alex Morgan in third. There are four women in the top ten and a record-breaking twenty-three women in the top fifty, demonstrating the growing commercial influence and value of women's sports. 19-year-old tennis Champion Coco Gauff is this year's most marketable teenager, appearing twelfth in the overall rankings. The full list can be found here.

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