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The Tip-Off: Infantino’s comedy timing, OTT freebies and is Mayweather buying into Nascar?

Welcome to SportsPro’s new weekly briefing chronicling the plotlines that may or may not come to define the sports industry.

by SportsPro
The Tip-Off: Infantino’s comedy timing, OTT freebies and is Mayweather buying into Nascar?

Package deal

Fifa’s well-timed decision to award the inaugural edition of its expanded 24-team Club World Cup to China may have provided further confirmation that no politically sensitive matter is too current for Gianni Infantino, but a move like this was probably inevitable in the medium term.

Chinese investment in Fifa sponsorships and domestic grassroots infrastructure was bound to tell eventually and hosting the Club World Cup could either act as a dry run for the men’s national team tournament in 2030 or 2034, or buy time to take those editions elsewhere. The move also makes Fifa a gatekeeper to the world’s most populous country for clubs beyond the sport’s most powerful markets.

ESPN is reporting that future editions of the tournament could take the Confederations Cup’s role as a Fifa World Cup test event, beginning with a move to the US, Mexico and Canada in 2025. The smaller existing version, incidentally, will see out its run in 2022 World Cup venue Qatar. Fears of low crowds in December – reinforced by a sparsely attended World Athletics Championships – may not be dispelled by news that Fifa sponsor Qatar Airways will give free match tickets to anyone booking flights to or via Doha by the end of next week. 

Maxing out the numbers

Content may be central to the over-the-top (OTT) entertainment war brewing in the US but free distribution will help new services install a user base. MoffettNathanson estimated last week that the Disney+ OTT bundle, which includes ESPN+ in the USA, could hit 8 million subscribers worldwide soon after launch and 18 million by the end of 2020. Disney+ will be free for the first year to American subscribers. Meanwhile AT&T, which owns Warner Media and its new Friends-toting HBO Max service, will be making that platform available free to users of DirecTV, AT&T TV Now, and on selected wireless plans.

All sides covered

The rise of women’s soccer has given smart brands an arena to try creative output that marries purpose with commercial potential, and few sponsors have impressed so much as Budweiser with its backing of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in the US. The AB InBev brand’s multi-year deal is being promoted through the ‘Future Official’ campaign, inviting other companies to imagine themselves in one of eight partner categories.

The ruse will put cultural credit in Budweiser’s account but there is more to it than that. Budweiser is a client of the Octagon agency, which announced a media and marketing consultancy agreement with the league earlier in October.

Sting in the tail

The logo for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games is either fittingly stylish or gallingly stereotypical, depending on your tolerance for romantic whimsy. But it is at least pleasing to look at, if not a little too pleasing for some – freelance journalist Megan Clement, having created a satirical Parisian girl character for the emblem, complained it was getting a little too much male attention in her Twitter mentions.

The same probably will not be true of the prospective new crests circulated to fans of Premier League strugglers Watford last week. The designs are inspired by the club’s nickname, ‘the Hornets’ and range from the cartoonishly aggressive to the entomologically precise. Watford will not make a change unless a majority of supporters back one option or another – but any one of them would have terrifying implications for the design of hitherto cuddly mascot Harry the Hornet.

Not putting money on it

A week after the Nascar’s very real US$2 billion merger with track operator ISC, the rumour mill has been turning over gently with whispers of boxing megastar Floyd Mayweather Jr’s arrival as a team owner. The Beyond The Flag blog has unearthed an archived homepage for The Money Team, an entry linked to Mayweather’s lifestyle brand, with information for sponsors and designs and merchandise that draw on his undefeated 50-fight record. A Facebook page has also been registered, along with Twitter and Instagram accounts, suggesting either something quite substantial or a Mayweather obsessive with a web design portfolio to pad out.  

Dragons Den-style investment dismissal of the week

I think a lot of people who bought into teams, not the esports themselves, had no idea how bad a business it was, no idea. Is it growing? Yes, but domestically here in the United States it’s an awful business, owning an esports team. I think you’re seeing a lot of consolidation, as people get out and try to sell. A lot of people are trying to raise more money, and valuations are going down

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban

Talking to Fox Sports’ Fair Game, Cuban cited the power of publishers and turnover of popular titles as further issues, but did say there was “tons of money” in esports in South Korea and China.

Genuinely impressive sponsorship activation of the week

Sponsorship of the player of the match trophy at any tournament can be associated with some fairly rote post-match branding work. But Rugby World Cup sponsor Mastercard has done something interesting with its unique laser-etched mementoes on each award.

Gate statistic of the week

345,694 people made the trip to the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez across the race weekend at the Formula One Mexican Grand Prix, continuing a healthy spate of attendances since the event’s 2015 return.

Not yet released: viewing figures for trial screenings of the race on Twitch in Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. 

Also trending: 83,720 watched the LA Rams dismantle the Cincinnati Bengals at a grim Wembley Stadium in North London, the lowest at the venue since 2015 but nothing too concerning.

Unconfirmed: the number of the fans who bought UK£5 resale tickets, the lowest available price on Viagogo.

What should I be reading on SportsPro?

The short answer, this week and every week, is everything. But if you are being picky…

The Golden State Warriors may have started the new season badly but there’s still plenty to look forward to in San Francisco as president and chief operating officer Rick Welts reveals.

Recent reports suggest Cristiano Ronaldo makes more from Instagram than playing soccer. Is that really as mad as it sounds? Or is it even madder? Mailman/Seven League group chief executive Andrew Collins takes a look.

Liverpool’s push to replace New Balance with Nike as their kit supplier has as much to do with distribution as sponsorship dollars, and as such is a weak excuse to flag up this column on the change coming to the sportswear business.

Some interesting tidbits from Sportel Monaco, where Steven Impey caught up with the ever-thoughtful Peter Hutton on Facebook’s sports rights strategy and got the lowdown on women’s soccer OTT service Wnited.