Review of the year of sports law 2021: were our forecasts good?

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Sunday, December 26, 2021 11:00 a.m.

Premier League renews media rights contracts, but digital platforms Amazon and DAZN remain on acquisition path

In December 2020, with others perhaps gearing up for muted New Years Eve celebrations in light of the novel variant of the coronavirus, we were busy making sports law predictions for the year. coming up for City AM

In summary, we predicted an increase in data litigation on the back of Project Red Card, the further growth and professionalization of esports, an increase in direct-to-consumer streaming agreements, and tighter regulation of the market. soccer.

Twelve months later, how accurate were our predictions on sports law and what could 2022 hold in store for us?

Daily use of data

Last year, we highlighted the growth in sports data cases, particularly as a result of the Sportradar / Genius Sports dispute and the Red Card Project, and suggested that any business using sports data should be aware of the potential for such cases. complaints. We have suggested that this could be an increasingly fertile ground for disputes.

As a reminder, the Sportradar / Genius Sports dispute concerns Sportradar using data from football matches without having to go through the official data collector, Genius Sports.

Project Red Card, on the other hand, which our colleagues are defending, concerns the potential claims of a group of former professional footballers against a wide range of companies who they say have used their data illegally in violation of football laws. Data protection.

While progress on both claims has been much slower than expected, 2021 has indeed seen continued customer interest in these issues.

In light of the recent landmark Lloyd v Google Supreme Court decision where a class data protection lawsuit was barred from pursuing the case, it is now more difficult for athletes to bring class actions. against the holders of rights concerning the use of personal data.

For 2022, we predict the Red Card project will fail but more data disputes will emerge as the value of sports data continues to rise, especially since the Supreme Court recently granted leave to appeal. in a dispute between Sports Information Services Limited. and The Racing Partnership and Arena regarding the use of race day data.

Esports: it’s just a game

As expected, the esports industry continued its meteoric rise. New titles such as Riot Games’ Valorant have taken the industry by storm, attracting fans and players of other games.

This has led to a proliferation of new professional esports organizations such as the Spanish KOI, founded by Barcelona footballer Gerard Pique, and the emergence of new professional and amateur tournament structures, such as the regional base circuit Valorant and the Valorant Game Changers for women. pro players.

The esports industry has continued to grow, raising new legal questions about the rights and responsibilities of participants.
The esports industry has continued to grow, raising new legal questions about the rights and responsibilities of participants.

While this is clearly a positive development, it nonetheless raises various legal questions which should continue to be the subject of close scrutiny in 2022. These include: ensuring that players receive a minimum wage (which in many cases they are not), struggling with the distinction between employees (who typically enjoy stronger legal protections, such as protection against unfair dismissal) and independent contractors (who receive less ), and tax complications for players based in one country but spending a lot of time competing around the world.

As the industry continues to grow, support is needed to guide the careers of young players, negotiate contracts and support their business goals. We looked to fix this problem earlier this year when we launched NIVO management – a London-based global esports and interactive entertainment company that represents professional gamers and helps brands looking to enter and improve their presence in the interactive entertainment industry.

Premier League: TV times

Around the same time last year, we predicted a bidding war for the Premier League’s domestic broadcast rights between the old pay-TV providers and the new generation of release broadcasters, like Amazon Prime and DAZN. We suggested that this would be a sign of things to come as these platforms continue to be on an acquisition track.

While no one would have predicted the outcome of the Premier League rights sale process, as official government approval was ultimately needed to endorse the Premier League’s decision to renew existing agreements on the same terms as previously, direct-to-market providers continued to expand.

For example, there was an extension in 2021 of what would have been the very first billion dollar boxing deal (on which Reya’s Mishcon initially acted) between Matchroom and DAZN, which saw Sky replaced as as a primary partner of Matchroom, while Amazon and DAZN continued to acquire additional broadcast rights.

Going forward, we suspect that DAZN and Amazon, in particular, will continue on their acquisition path and, as has been widely rumored, may even try to acquire one of the more traditional broadcast rivals in 2022.

Regulators on a roll

At the end of 2020, we saw that sports regulators around the world were preparing for increased regulation; a trend which has proven to be correct and which should continue in 2022.

The emergence of the European Super League has heightened concerns about the regulation of football. This ultimately led the UK government to announce the fan-led review of football governance, which made a number of policy recommendations, including the creation of a new independent regulator for English football and the creation of new ones. tests for owners and managers.

The English Football League has since announced its own plans to create an independent financial unit (albeit with powers similar to the body proposed by the government). This struggle for political and regulatory power between the government and the governing bodies of English football is expected to continue into the new year.

Despite significant opposition from major football agents, Fifa is pushing forward proposals to tighten regulation of the industry. The main reform is that payments to agents should be capped at 3% of a player’s salary when the agent acts for the buying club or the player, and at 10% of the transfer fee when the agent acts for the club. seller.

This, like many of the other issues identified above, is expected to be the subject of a lot of legal disputes that likely won’t be resolved anytime soon. They reflect the ongoing tensions between: data companies and rights holders; traditional and direct-to-consumer broadcasters; government and regulators; and agents and Fifa, who will undoubtedly define the law of sport in 2022.

Simon Leaf is responsible for sports and Tom Murray is a partner at Mishcon de Reya.


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