United Kingdom February 24 2022
In a fortnight which has seen the LA Rams defeat the Cincinnati Bengals at Super Bowl LVI, Kell Brook end his bitter rivalry with Amir Khan in dramatic fashion, and speculation around the Saudi Golf League intensify, we feature the recent private equity-backed investment in the All Blacks, Man City’s stadium construction in the metaverse and Fanatics‘ acquisition of lifestyle brand Mitchell & Ness
We also take a look at UEFA‘s announcement that Socios.com is to become its Official Fan Token Partner, the NBA‘s Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s (affectionately nicknamed the “Greek Freak“ due to his incredible speed and 6ft 11in frame) long-term deal with WhatsApp and the US Women‘s football team’s $24 million settlement of its equal-pay legal action.
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WhatsApp has announced a global partnership with Milwaukee Bucks forward and 2021 NBA All-Star MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. The agreement reportedly marks WhatsApp’s first celebrity endorsement deal. Antetokounmpo made headlines in 2020 when he signed a $228 million contract extension with the Bucks, which is currently the largest deal in NBA history. WhatsApp plans to work with Antetokounmpo on content, events and community outreach. The messaging platform which has over 2 billion users worldwide and has been working to boost its marketing presence in the sports industry and aired its first US advert during the NFL playoffs in January this year.
Manchester City F.C. have started building the world’s first football stadium inside the metaverse. City have partnered with Sony, the new “virtual fan engagement partner“ of the Premier League club in this 3-year deal. Hawk-Eye, a subsidiary of Sony, will use its image analysis and skeletal-tracking technology to digitally recreate City’s Etihad Stadium. Nuria Tarre, City Football Group’s chief marketing and fan experience officer says, “the whole point we could imagine of having a metaverse is you can recreate a game and you can fill the stadium as much as you want because it’s unlimited, it’s completely virtual“. This deal could offer exciting opportunities such as fan engagement with players and the prospect that fans could watch games live in a virtual stadium as if they were there in person, as Tarre says, “at best one per cent of our fans will ever travel to Manchester to experience a game”. We suspect that other top Premier League clubs will follow suit in the coming years.
Silver Lake, a US private equity firm, has agreed to invest £98.4m in the commercial entity behind the All Blacks rugby team, in exchange for a stake of up to 8.58% in the entity (down from the 10-15% originally proposed). Previous attempts at private ownership of the All Blacks brand, which has always been publicly owned, have been blocked by the players’ association, but following months of negotiations, the players have reached a position where they are happy to accept the deal. A statement by the chair of New Zealand Rugby (NZR) described the deal as a “pivotal moment“ for rugby in New Zealand, but that NZR will retain full control over rugby and the commercial strategy of the team. Silver Lake is one of many private equity firms and other institutional investors who have been stepping up their interest in sport since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
UEFA has signed a ‘Global Licensing and Regional Sponsorship’ agreement with Socios.com, creators of digital assets known as ‘fan tokens’ that Socios.com claim provide “unrivalled access to your team”. The agreement makes Socios.com the first fan token creator to partner with UEFA and includes various advertising opportunities for Socios.com, such as Virtual Perimeter Boards at UEFA Champions League matches, and will also allow owners of the fan tokens to enter into competitions to win various UEFA-themed prizes. Like other Socios deals, a lot of importance is placed on the PR and communications aspect of the partnership. Some supporters groups have been left unhappy with activations where clubs (and in this case, UEFA) have not made it as clear as they would like as to how fan tokens work, and any risks associated with purchasing fan tokens with cryptocurrencies. There are also important factors to consider when it comes to advertising and marketing activations involving fan tokens: as reported in Edition 54 of Sports Ticker, the ASA recently criticised Arsenal FC’s failure to warn fans of the potential risks involved with purchasing cryptocurrency (which is a requirement for purchasing fan tokens from Socios.com) in a social media advert. As an increasing number of sports teams move into the world of fan tokens, the importance of the PR and communications is likely to come to the fore.
The US licensed merchandise company, Fanatics, has recently acquired a 75% stake in the lifestyle brand Mitchell & Ness for a deal estimated at $250 million. Mitchell & Ness specialise in street fashion, and already sport a number of licensing deals, including with the NBA, NFL and the MLB, giving Fanatics access to a different marketplace for its business in athleisure. The acquisition follows hot on the heels of Fanatics’ purchase of the trading card company Topps for $500 million.
…and finally, the US Women have agreed a $24 million settlement to end a long-running equal-pay legal battle with the United States Soccer Federation. The dispute was fought over the mismatch in earnings between the men and women’s national sides, including the smaller World Cup bonuses received by the women’s team, despite them winning the tournament four times. The settlement figure is a third of the amount originally sought in damages and is to be split between the players (up to an amount per player of $50,000). Importantly, the settlement has seen the USSF committing to providing equal pay for the men and women’s national teams.