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The Tip-Off | The influencer Olympics and flying cars offer sport’s vision of the future

Other plotlines that may or may not come to define the sports industry... Debating the true cost of hosting the Olympic Games.

by SportsPro
The Tip-Off | The influencer Olympics and flying cars offer sport’s vision of the future

Vision of the future of sport part one: the influencer edition

The Welsh mountain range of Snowdonia is the venue this week for a modest yet potentially influential new sports venture. The Aphetor Games are the brainchild of Carsten Thode, the one-time chief strategy officer at Engine Sport, and are an attempt to reimagine the media model for sports events.

No fewer than 20 social media content creators have been brought together for three days of competition across a range of adventure sports challenges, coverage of which will be distributed across Aphetor’s channels and those of its participants. The plan is to turn over media distribution and creation to those competitors, bringing their audiences along for the ride and generating a multiplier effect in the attention earned for the event and its partners.

The involvement of hosts Chunkz, Yung Filly and Chelcee Grimes has already secured coverage across a range of news outlets and it will be interesting to follow the Aphetor Games’ growth from a standing start. What could be just as telling, though, is whether it can demonstrate enough to rights holders and broadcasters about the dynamics of digital media consumption to make them rethink their own events. That could lead to greater experimentation with what rights are freed up and how production plans are designed.

Vision of the future of sport part two: up in the air

“If we’re living in the future,” they always ask, “then where are our flying cars?”

Well, one motorsport championship is dedicated to bringing about that reality sooner rather than later, and it has just passed a significant new landmark. Airspeeder is the self-billed ‘world’s first electric flying car racing series’, and it has just launched a strategic partnership with cyber security firm Acronis. Featuring manned and unmanned ‘electric racing multicopters’ built by specialist marque Alauda, the first Airspeeder GP events are scheduled to take place in 2021.

You have to see it to believe it and all that, but the championship’s backers are certainly talking the talk. They suggest their series can help accelerate development in the emerging eVTOL – or ‘electrical vertical take-off and landing’ – sector, which is currently being explored by the likes of Uber, Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler, Toyota and Airbus. ‘Flying taxis’ may seem part of the fever dreams of city planners but according to Morgan Stanley, the market could carry a rub-those-eyes-again value of US$1.5 trillion by 2040.

On the technical side, Acronis will support a pretty fundamental part of those ambitions. Its data security services will underpin the LiDAR and Machine Vision technology powering what Airspeeder describes as ‘virtual force fields’. This software will prevent the ‘Speeders’, which are expected to travel at up to 130 km/h, from getting close enough to crash, and the viability of such systems will be central to city-bound eVTOL vehicles as well.  

Into the rings

What do cities really pay to stage an Olympic Games?

Professor Bent Flyvbjerg, the author of a study published by Oxford University’s Saïd Business School into the cost of the Olympic Games, has been drawn into a debate about how such figures are calculated. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has taken exception to the suggestions made in ‘Regression to the Tail: Why the Olympics Blow Up’, which include claims that every Olympics since 1960 has exceeded its budget at an average of 172 per cent, and that Tokyo 2020’s spending now stands at US$15.84 billion.

The IOC has accused Prof Flyvbjerg’s team of conflating the budget for the organisation of the Games with infrastructure outlay that cities would have committed to anyway. Prof Flyvbjerg, who had earlier told the Associated Press that “the Olympics offer the highest level of risk a city can take on”, has now written a letter to the IOC, making a point-by-point defence of his research in the face of its public refutations.

The whole dispute could end up in that most cherished of Oxford arenas: the debate stage. Michael Payne, the former IOC marketing director, has been using his Twitter account to highlight what he sees as flaws in the study. Now, after a direct exchange with Prof Flyvbjerg on the platform, he has suggested they take their differences to the Oxford Union.

Selling up and staying put

McLaren’s Formula One team have been running a creditable third in the constructors’ championship in 2020 but the reconstitution of the wider company continues. Back in June, the McLaren Group agreed a new UK£150 million loan with the National Bank of Bahrain but also announced redundancies for about 1,200 people, or a quarter of its workforce. Goldman Sachs and HSBC were reportedly appointed to advise on a fresh capital raise for 2021.

Those moves have now been followed by a decision to put the group’s Surrey, UK-based headquarters – the Sir Norman Foster-designed McLaren Technology Centre, which opened in 2003 – on the market for UK£200 million. According to Sky News, the property agent Colliers will be inviting offers for a sale-and-leaseback deal that would provide McLaren with further financial security but without, it hopes, having any meaningful impact on its regular activities.

A McLaren spokesperson told CityAM: “Building on the shorter-term measures that we put in place over the summer, these initiatives will deliver a stronger balance sheet and ensure that McLaren Group has a sustainable platform for long-term growth and investment.

“The proposed sale and leaseback mirrors best practice among leading companies and will have no impact on our day-to-day operations.” 

Nice work if you can get it

1st August 2019: Video game streaming favourite Tyler Blevins, better known as Ninja, moves from Amazon’s Twitch to Microsoft’s Mixer platform in a deal said to be worth between US$20 million and US$30 million a year.

22nd July 2020: Microsoft shuts down Mixer and moves its partners across to Facebook Gaming.

10th September 2020: Having been reportedly bought out of his Mixer contract , Ninja announces a return to Twitch.

Don’t call it a comeback

Colin Kaepernick may not be retaking the field in the new NFL season, even if the spirit of protest he engendered back in 2020 has now become more accepted by the league’s elders. But hey, here he is in an officially licensed NFL product.

EA Sports has added Kaepernick as a playable avatar in Madden 21, which was released at the end of last month. The 32-year-old is accessible as a free agent, having not been signed by any teams over the summer.

Don’t put your shirt on it

Tottenham Hotspur’s All or Nothing documentary series has been hard to miss in the opening days of the Premier League season. Manager Jose Mourinho, who inevitably became a central focus of the programme’s marketing, even referred to the fresh absence of Amazon Prime Video cameras in a dark reference to what he would tell his players after a 1-0 home defeat to Everton in their first game.

Amazon has offered a glimpse of its all-round digital marketing muscle by following its content partnership with Spurs with the creation of a new online store. However, fans will quickly discover there are limits even to Amazon’s retail powers. Official Tottenham Hotspur jerseys and training wear will not be available through the store – kit partner Nike withdrew its products from direct sale amid an overhaul of its ecommerce strategy last November.  

Oversight of the week

Sonic brand update of the week

The Premier League’s new anthem, composed by David Connolly. To be heard in – we hope – progressively less empty stadiums throughout 2020/21, as well as on the league’s official Spotify playlists.

Strategic tease of the week

“You know, it could. I doubt news, but sports, video gaming, user-generated content – if you think of the other big categories, someday it could make sense.

“But right now, Ted’s [Sarandos, the Netflix co-chief executive and chief content officer] got every billion dollar earmarked for bigger movies, bigger series, animation, of course. At least for the next couple of years, every content dollar is spoken for.”

Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings talks to Variety about the streaming giant’s plans in the live rights space.