The secondary coronavirus threat
As essential discussions continue over whether sports events can take place with fans present, or at all, and European soccer teams revise travel plans for the summer, it is inevitable that the conversation will soon turn to how smaller organisations can be protected from the economic consequences of all this.
Already the English Football League (EFL), which governs the second to fourth tiers of English club soccer, has informed the UK government of its financial fears about the closure of stadiums – though it has been clear that all clubs will follow official guidance.
According to the Guardian, one senior executive at a second-tier Championship club has warned that many teams will not be insured against the loss of vital ticket revenue and might immediately struggle to pay players. Governments are announcing emergency packages to pay for containment measures and keep economies ticking; it may be that sports bodies consider their own financial relief if the crisis worsens.
Up in the air
Amid coronavirus delays, rugby union’s Six Nations Championship is facing long-term questions over who gets to watch which will only persist as a free-to-air UK broadcast deal with ITV and the BBC enters its final year.
Selected British MPs are doubling down in their opposition to a reported UK£300 million pay-TV deal, most likely with Sky Sports, from 2022, with parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee calling the chief executives of the English, Scottish and Welsh unions to answer public questions on matters including the influence of incoming equity investor CVC Capital Partners, the decision not to allow joint bids, and the prospect of moving the tournament to protected free-to-air status.
America’s passed time
Major League Baseball (MLB) returns in a couple of weeks and after its leadership spent the winter months grappling with the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, most people in the game will be desperate to play ball.
Across the US sports industry, though, the perception lingers that MLB is in a long-term battle for relevance. At Major League Soccer’s (MLS) new season launch late last month, Los Angeles FC lead owner Larry Berg predicted the soccer league would overtake MLB in the next decade. Then, at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston last Friday, Atlanta Hawks chief executive Steve Koonin suggested that the National Basketball Association (NBA) should move its season back two months – running from December to August – to avoid too long an overlap with the National Football League (NFL) and improve early traction.
Speaking at the same event, NBA senior vice president of strategy and analytics Evan Wasch said the league would “certainly have no issue with reconsidering the calendar” but that other stakeholders would need to buy in. Baseball’s summer hegemony got comparatively little mention.
The Cheltenham Festival goes ahead despite coronavirus concerns, but some thoughts are already leaping ahead to matters in flat racing.
Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has probably been the primary benefactor of the sport for decades, through his enormously successful Godolphin team and operations in bloodstock and events. His investment is responsible for hundreds of jobs, not least in the English racing town of Newmarket.
Yet the British Civil Court ruling last week that Sheikh Mohammed had been responsible for the abduction of two runaway daughters – Shamsa from the UK in 2000 and Latifa off the coast of India in 2018 – as well as the harassment of estranged wife Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein, exiled in London, presents an ethical quandary.
Sheikh Mohammed is a regular fixture at meetings around the world – he attended Super Saturday at Dubai’s Meydan Racecourse at the weekend – but Queen Elizabeth II’s reported decision to avoid future photos with her long-time race day associate will put the spotlight on the sport’s wider response.
Trolling the Sun
Sun Yang received unstinting support from Chinese social media after being controversially cleared by Fina to swim at the 2019 World Swimming Championships, despite allegations he had tampered with a doping test by attacking a container of vials of blood with a hammer. Now that Sun has been handed an eight-year ban by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which has released a full 78-page report after a remarkable trial, the tables have turned.
The South China Morning Post has now noticed widespread messages of condemnation for the 28-year-old – along with supportive posts for Australia’s Mack Horton, who memorably refused to share a podium with Sun in 2019. The question the Hong Kong-based paper asks is whether the phenomenon is happening organically or whether the ’50-cent gang’, an apparently government-backed troop of online trolls, has had a hand in the changing mood.
Who gets to decide why a sponsorship has been dropped?
Alaska Airlines is ending its 40-year-old sponsorship of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the thousand-mile challenge across the US state bearing the Seattle-based carrier’s name. The news has been welcomed with enthusiasm by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.
PETA has lobbied the airline and other sponsors like Wells Fargo and Jack Daniels about its concerns over the difficulty of the race for dogs and their treatment throughout.
PETA has since called for carmaker Chrysler to terminate its association with the Iditarod but Alaska Airlines – which remains a supporter of the 2020 race that began this week – says its decision was the result of a shift to a ‘corporate giving strategy’. A statement shared with Fox News said the company was ‘proud of [its] sponsorship, which was focused on dog health and safety’. Spokesman Tim Thompson emailed the Daily Mail to say that ‘PETA did not play a role in our decision’.
Enjoying alcohol responsibly
In 2019 the NFL loosened its regulations around alcohol sponsorships, allowing adult beverage partners to use team logos and player images when marketing their products and allowing players to sign endorsement deals with those companies. Last season, two players – the Kansas City Chiefs’ Eric Fisher and the Baltimore Ravens’ Marcus Peters – received US$14,037 fines for unsportsmanlike conduct after celebrating big wins with beers.
We probably don’t need to tell you who just signed with NFL sponsor Bud Light. Still, it’s not the first time Anheuser-Busch has picked up the tab for the pair.
Questionably timed activation of the week
Beer brand Corona has expanded its football-based hotline promotion into basketball, signing former NBA star and TNT broadcaster Kenny ‘The Jet’ Smith in time for March Madness.
Smith joins NFL star turned CBS Sports commentator Tony Romo in endorsing the beer, and will be taking fans’ calls about the college season finale on the Corona Hotline. Americans who are very sure that this is the information they need from this number can call 1-844-9-CORONA until 6th April.
Rough calculation of the week
How much is a Premier League club worth?
According to INEOS Football CEO Bob Ratcliffe (brother of Sir Jim, one of Britain’s richest men):
Top 6: at least £2bn
Rest of PL: £150-£350m
“They are all for sale,” he tells #FTFootball conference
— Rob Harris (@RobHarris) March 5, 2020
Kayfabe numbers of the week(again)
WWE’s YouTube channel – the biggest in sort-of sport – has surpassed 40 billion views and 55 million subscribers.
Shoulders of giants
Tennis icon Billie Jean King reflects on the final of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup, where 86,174 fans packed into the Melbourne Cricket Ground to see hosts Australia win their fifth title against India.