This week, I spoke to Michael Rubinthe billionaire founder of sports merchandiser Fanatics, for an upcoming piece. Now valued at $ 27bn following a $ 1.5bn funding round backed by investors including the National Football League, Joe Tsai‘s Blue Pool Capitaland the Qatar Investment Authority, Fanatics is also diversifying into digital collectible tokens. What stood out to me most, though, is that Rubin does not just partner with leagues and players to sell their merchandise – he convinces them to buy into his company too. That’s one way of aligning incentives.
In this week’s edition, we take you to Augusta, where The Masters golf tournament is in full swing and fans flocked around Tiger Woods as he lit up the course with his latest against-the-odds comeback. We also analyze the politics of regulating UK football and why there’s still time for the industry to push back against the government’s plans. Do not forget to write to us at email@example.com.
Do read on – Samuel Agini, sports business reporter.
Tiger lights up Masters with Saudi golf poised
To get a sense of what Tiger Woods means to golf, just consider the PGA Tour‘s “player impact program”.
Introduced last year, it’s a $ 40mn prize fund for players who “positively move the needle”, for instance through special media and other promotional activities.
Despite playing just one tournament in 2021, Tiger won the inaugural PiPfinishing above younger stars such as Rory Mcllroy, Jordan Spieth and Bryson DeChambeau to collect the top prize of $ 8mn.
Even after an enforced hiatus after he sustained serious leg injuries in a car accident last year, Wood’s latest comeback at The Masters, one of the sport’s major tournaments, is a boon to golf’s establishment.
While the PGA Tour does not organize the Masters, the tournament represents the establishment and tradition of golf.
Simply tweeting that he was heading to Augusta for practice generated more than 100,000 likes and 10,000 retweets. As former world number one Lee Westwood quipped: “Well just like that @TigerWoods seals the 2022 PiP”, followed by a series of laughing emojis.
Wood’s return is important beyond the social media likes and television ratings. Golf is at a critical juncture.
The PiP itself was widely seen as a move by the PGA Tour to keep the world’s top players sweet, as Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund bankrolls rival events through its majority-owned LIV Golf Investmentsrun by former world number one Greg Norman.
As well as pumping $ 300mn into the Asian Tour, LIV has confirmed plans for what’s colloquially referred to in golf circles as the Saudi Golf League.
Which brings us to one star who’s notable by his absence from the Masters: Phil Mickelson.
The winner of last year’s PGA Championshiphis sixth major trophy, is on a break after incendiary comments that provoked outrage in the sport and beyond.
Despite dubbing the Saudis “scary motherfuckers”, Citing the country’s human rights record, Mickelson was open about his goal of using LIV’s arrival on the scene to squeeze more cash from the PGA Tour.
Reminder: the PGA Tour subsequently confirmed that Mickelson earned $ 6mn as a runner-up to Tiger in the PGA Tour’s PiP.
In the meantime, LIV is playing the long game, seeding what is effectively the Saudi Golf League with $ 400mn to attract the world’s top players to events that will include a team-based format. The launch is scheduled for June.
Though LIV maintains its schedule will not compete with the Masters or other golf majors, Wood’s choice of comeback venue is symbolically powerful at a critical stage for the future of the sport.
English football is at the center of another political battle.
This week, the FT revealed that the UK government plans to introduce an independent regulator to the country’s most popular sport.
The Football Associationthe domestic governing body, would prefer that regulator to sit within its walls, an idea that has gained support at the Premier LeagueEurope’s richest football division by revenues.
But culture secretary Nadine Dorries has put football on notice, warning that a regulator will be in place before the UK’s next general election in 2024.
That’s dangerous for the powers that be at both the FA and the Premier League as they risk losing control of a sport that is largely self-governing.
Advocates of the independent regulator say that football needs a reset following a series of controversies that exposed clubs to shocks, including sanctioned billionaire Roman Abramovich‘s forced sale of Chelsea because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Then there’s the pandemic, which underlined the financial precarity of clubs, a result of overspending on buying players and funding their lucrative wages in pursuit of winning. On top of that came the failed European Super Leaguewhich exposed the divide between its elite founders and the rest.
That was the catalyst for a review by Tracey Croucha Conservative member of parliament, who saw an opportunity to reset the excesses of the English game.
Following a wide-ranging review, she recommended giving supporters a veto over key decisions and – crucially – the creation of an independent regulator to oversee the game, which would have an array of powers, including blocking a change of ownership of clubs.
Dorries’ support for the creation of a new regulatory body makes the implementation of Crouch’s recommendations more likely. But with legislation unlikely until next year, there is time for the FA and Premier League to lobby against it or for a more digestible implementation in practice.
One group with an opinion is the Institute for Economic Affairsa pro-Brexit lobby group that backs free markets, which (predictably) argues that regulation risks deterring investors from buying English clubs.
Expect the battle for the future of the sport to intensify as the details of regulation are fleshed out.
Tom Bradythe seven-time Super Bowl winner, has joined Consellothe comeback venture founded by Declan Kellythe public relations adviser who quit his firm Teneo last year after sexual harassment allegations. The American football star, a partner at Consello, is expanding his business interests after calling off his retirement from the sport, the FT revealed this week.
Diego Maradona‘s shirt from the “Hand of God” match against England at the 1986 Fifa World Cup is going on auction at Sotheby’s. The sale, which could fetch between £ 4mn and £ 6mn, could break the $ 5.6mn record held by a jersey worn by baseball player Babe Ruth dating from 1928-30.
The UK advertising regulator is barring gambling operators from using high-profile football players and celebrities in betting adverts. The Committee of Advertising Practice said the new rules will be enforced before this year’s Fifa World Cup, as it looks to prevent harm to minors.
Andrea Radrizzani‘s Aser Ventureswhich controls Leeds United football club, hired Ioris Francini as its vice-chair. Formerly co-president of talent agencies WME and IMGwhich are part of Ari Emanuel‘s Endeavor entertainment group, Francini has been tasked with deepening ties with investors and increasing growth across its portfolio.
AS Romathe Italian football team owned by Texas-based billionaire Dan Friedkinhired Ryan Norys as its chief revenue officer. Norys, previously of WME Sportsthe Los Angeles Dodgersand the Miami Dolphinsis looking to help Roma realize its commercial potential under its new owners.
Football is not known as the beautiful game for nothing. Football meets art in Edwin Heathcote’s review of a new exhibition at London’s Design Museumwhich takes you from George Best‘s old boots and advances in stadium architecture to Borussia Dortmund‘s famous yellow wall. To promote the exhibition, Arsenal legend Ray Parlorironically known as the “Romford Pelé ”tested his football skills against professional freestyler Andrew Henderson. Look out for the kit change that shows how far design has come in football!
Scoreboard is written by Samuel Agini and Arash Massoudi in London, Sara Germano, James Fontanella-Khan, and Anna Nicolaou in New York, with contributions from the team that produces the Due Diligence newsletter, the FT’s global network of correspondents and data visualization team