Football clubs and eSports: A natural pairing?

For some people, the idea of watching someone else play a video game holds no appeal whatsoever. However, watching eSports is becoming an increasingly popular activity for millennials and Generation Z with viewing figures rivalling some traditional sports. As the audience for eSports grows, so do the revenues created by the industry. According to recent projections, annual revenue generated by eSports is set to reach US$2.96 billion in 2022.

Many long-established sporting institutions are well aware of the growth potential in eSports, with the opportunity to engage the prized 16-24 demographic one of eSports’ chief attractions. Football clubs in particular see natural synergies between their traditional activities and the burgeoning eSports sector. For example, West Ham United have a roster of two eSports players who represent the club in FIFA 19 competitions. Many other clubs have followed suit. However, not all football clubs limit their involvement in eSports to football video games. Bundesliga club Schalke 04 regularly compete in the European League of Legends Championship Series – a professional league for the multiplayer battle game ‘League of Legends’. As Schalke acknowledge, League of Legends is popular across the world and millions of fans livestream battles between professional teams in big championships. This gives the club an opportunity to diversify its fan base by building its reputation with a demographic that may not be natural followers of Schalke’s football team.

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Formula 2021 – A new vision for Formula 1

At the last race weekend in Bahrain, Charles Leclerc became the second-youngest pole-sitter in Formula 1 history in just his second race with Ferrari. A few days’ prior in London, another rookie (at least, in his current role) was delivering what could be an historical change in the future of the sport: Ross Brawn’s vision of Formula 1 in 2021 and beyond.

In December 2020, the existing terms, set out in what is known as the Seventh Concorde Agreement, come to a conclusion. In consideration for the opportunity for change, Ross Brawn, one of Formula 1’s most-known faces, was appointed Formula 1’s Managing Director for Motorsport in 2017; tasked with identifying and then addressing the changes required to “create great action and bring the cars closer together, make the drivers the heroes and make the business more sustainable.”

Formula 1 (and indeed Liberty Media, the new owners of the sport following their $8bn acquisition in 2016), were one step closer to that goal after setting out the new framework at the meeting in London. The day commenced with a meeting of the Strategy Group, comprising the FIA, Formula 1, Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren, Williams and Renault. The remaining teams were allowed to attend, but only as observers. A separate meeting of the Formula 1 Commission followed, including every team, Formula 1, track representatives, and sponsors. Four key pillars of change were identified and discussed: cars, engines, revenues and costs.

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Hercules Football Club scores in Luxembourg over Unlawful Spanish State Aid

We promised to provide updates on the saga involving Spain’s public funding of certain Spanish football clubs when we covered the first successful appeal of the European Commission (“EC”)’s decision on the subject.  This first update comes in favour of Hercules Football Club (“Hercules FC”) and annuls another aspect of the EC’s 2016 decisionOn 20 March 2019, the European General Court annulled the EC’s finding that the guarantee given by Valencia Institute of Finance (“VIF”) to Hercules FC constituted unlawful State aid pursuant to Article 107 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (“TFEU”).

You will recall that the EC decision’s first successful appeal rested on the fact that the EC had not taken all the available information into account. The EC could not therefore establish whether the Spanish tax scheme for non-profit entities gave FC Barcelona an advantage which distorted or potentially distorted competition and affected trade between Member States under Article 107(1) TFEU.  In this second successful appeal, the General Court found that the EC did not uphold its duty to state reasons for its decision and therefore infringed essential procedural requirements.

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Racism in football – the ongoing battle to ‘Kick It Out’

UEFA has announced that it has commenced disciplinary proceedings against Montenegro after English players were on the receiving end of racist chants from spectators in Montenegro. England players, including Raheem Sterling who scored the final goal in England’s 5-1 victory, were subjected to racist abuse from the stands.

Gareth Southgate firmly rebuked such conduct from the Montenegro fans, stating: “We had an excellent performance and we’ve got an 18-year-old being interviewed after the game and he’s having to respond to what’s happened when his evening should be about the joy of his full debut.”

Going further, Southgate said it was “clear to everybody that there were comments made”.

Sports Shorts has before reviewed the mechanism by which governing bodies in football tackle racism, remarking that the current state of affairs inadequately addresses racism in the sport. FIFA had established an anti-racism task force to deal with the issue but it subsequently  announced that the task force had “completely fulfilled its temporary mission”, which was to develop concrete solutions to fight discrimination in football and strengthen FIFA’s approach to the issue.

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Sponsorship of women’s sport – the time is now

Last month, in recognition of International Women’s Day, Sports Shorts celebrated recent successes in women’s sport (apologies to Dina Asher Smith who wasn’t mentioned… there were too many examples to choose from!). While we celebrated the achievements of women in sport, we also recognised that work still needs to be done to improve the overall image of women in sport and increase engagement from spectators.

One area where there is growing momentum is sponsorship. Visa and Adidas have made ground breaking commitments regarding the FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer and recently sponsorship in women’s sport took another leap forward when Barclays announced that it will be the new title partner of the FA Women’s Super League. The sponsorship will take effect from the 2019/2020 season and is due to be in place until July 2022. Barclays is currently the Official Banking Partner of the men’s Premier League and used to be the League’s title sponsor so it is exciting to see its support for both the women’s and the men’s game.

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Infringers walk the plank as the Premier League’s anti-piracy campaign scores big success

Between 2016 and 2019 the Premier League was paid a record breaking £5 billion for UK rights by broadcasters for 168 games a season. A new deal, effective from 2019 to 2022, will see the Premier League make at least £4.46 billion from the UK rights to broadcast matches (with one broadcaster not disclosing how much they paid for two packages). Unsurprisingly, the Premier League are eager to protect that revenue by tackling piracy and illegal streaming.

It was this firm, which advised on the first known successful judgment against the illegal streaming of football coverage in the European Union, obtaining summary judgment and an injunction for UEFA in 2006. Since then, Sports Shorts has covered the emergence of ground-breaking “live blocking injunctions”, which the Premier League obtained both in respect of the final portion of the 2016/17 season (in a test case before the High Court in March 2017) and subsequently in respect of the entire 2017/18 season. This year, in order to further strengthen its anti-piracy programme, the Premier League has announced that it will open its first international office in Singapore with the aim of pursuing illegal streaming worldwide. Most recently, the enforcement programme has secured a court order against illegal suppliers of Premier League content and five arrests have been made internationally in connection with one of the world’s largest anti-piracy investigations.

Illegal streaming organisation found to defraud the Premier League

On 20 March, following a four-week trial at Warwick Crown Court, three individuals were sentenced to a combined total of 17 years in prison for operating a pirate streaming organisation. These are some of the longest sentences ever issued for piracy-related crimes.

The three individuals traded as Dreambox, Dreambox TV Limited, and Digital Switchover Limited, via the websites “dreamboxtv.co.uk” and “yourfootie.com”. They were found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the Premier League by providing illegal access to Premier League pay-TV to over 1,000 businesses and homes in England and Wales. These fraudulent activities earned the perpetrators in excess of £5 million over ten years.

The Premier League’s Director of Legal Services said: “Today’s decision has provided further evidence that the law will catch up with companies and individuals that defraud rights owners and breach copyright. The custodial sentences issued here reflect the seriousness and the scale of the crimes.”

Using these services is unlawful and fans should be aware that when they do so they enter into agreements with illegal businesses. They also risk being victims of fraud or identity theft by handing over personal data and financial details.”

Premier League aids arrests made in international IPTV piracy ring

Last week, the Premier League assisted the Spanish National Police as part of an operation to shut down an illegal subscription streaming service in one of the world’s largest anti-piracy investigations. The operation saw collaboration between authorities in the UK, Spain and Denmark, as well as Europol and the digital platform security provider Irdeto.

The investigation began in 2015 and uncovered a complex technological infrastructure underpinning the illegal Internet Protocol TV (“IPTV”) business, which comprised of 11 server farms distributed all over the world, some of them with more than 44 servers. The illegal IPTV streaming business provided access to over 800 television channels to subscribers in more than 30 countries. The business earned approximately €8 million (£6.9 million). Overall, 14 locations were raided worldwide, five arrests were made and, to date, three individuals in Spain have been found guilty and sentenced.

Whilst the Premier League has long been known for its forceful pursuit of infringers, their investment into progressive technology and their recent collaboration with international enforcement agencies has proven very effective. No doubt, the Premier League, its members and other sports governing bodies will be pleased with the results of their most recent campaign against those who pirate Premier League content, given the unprecedented sentences meted out to infringers in various jurisdictions. With the UK government considering proposals for administrative site blocking, which could allow enforcement agencies or administrative staff the power to block infringing sites without judicial oversight, the Premier League and other rights-holders may have further tools at their disposal to tackle piracy in the near future.

Dealing with on-field misconduct in Rugby League

In a recent on-field misconduct incident, Joel Tomkins, the current captain of rugby league’s Hull Kingston Rovers (ʺHull KRʺ) received a two-match ban and £500 fine from the Rugby Football League (“RFL”) for using offensive language towards a match official.

At a hearing in Leeds, the disciplinary panel found that Tomkins swore twice at referee Liam Moore.  During his tirade, Tomkins also called the official a ‘cheat’.  The incident happened in the 64th minute of Hull KR’s Super League match against Salford Red Devils, when Tomkins protested against Moore’s decision to disallow a try.  Hull KR went on to lose the game 24-22.

The Tomkins incident is an example of the kind of player misconduct which many sports, to varying degrees of success, are actively trying to stamp out.  A foul-mouthed reaction to a controversial referee’s call is of course not out of the ordinary.  However, ever-increasing professionalism, the added coverage and scrutiny of on-field incidents via broadcasting, replays, and social media, makes it more difficult for players to escape criticism and disciplinary action.

This goes hand-in-hand with heightened expectations of a player’s character and integrity.  There is a growing appreciation in sports such as rugby league of the status of players as role models and representatives (with good behaviour expected both on and off the pitch).

These issues go to the core sporting values of integrity, fair play, honesty and respect.   The disrespect of a referee and, arguably worse, the questioning of an official’s integrity, are clearly at odds with these values.

This particular blog takes the example of on-field misconduct in rugby league to focus in on how sports address and punish disciplinary incidents.

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Got, got, need! Football trading cards meet blockchain

Football and blockchain: It may not be the most obvious of pairings, but stakeholders in the football world are beginning to dip their toes in the water, when it comes to using blockchain technology in their commercial operations.

Readers of Sports Shorts may have fond memories of schooldays spent collecting trading cards or stickers depicting their favourite footballers. The perceived value of these trading cards fluctuated depending on the player, the scarcity of the card and, in some cases, whether it was a “shiny” or “foil” card. The inherently tradeable nature of the cards made playground entrepreneurs out of those skilled enough to judge the value of cards to their classmates as well as providing hours of fun. For many people, that love of collecting trading cards or stickers continued well into adulthood.

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A Time to Celebrate Women in Sport

Last Friday was International Women’s Day – a day where women are celebrated in countries around the world. In March alone, UK sportswomen have more than earned recognition for their achievements. Laura Muir retained her European 1,500m and 3,000m titles, beating the 31-year-old British indoor mile record by 5 seconds at the European Indoor Championships, the England Women’s Football Team won the SheBelievesCup, and, after crushing victories, England Women’s Rugby are on track for a Six Nations win.

I hope I am not getting too carried away when I say that there is currently a real momentum behind women’s sport, and importantly, women’s achievements are being recognised in the media. I am increasingly seeing the triumphs of sportswomen decorating the headlines. The live coverage of female sport is also increasing. For example, the BBC will show every England game in the run up to the FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer. I am slowly seeing more female presenters appear in mainstream sports programmes, such as Alex Scott, who made history as the first female pundit on Sky Sports’ Super Sunday. Continue Reading

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