Football’s latest US import

by Admin
Football’s latest US import

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With 10 Spanish titles, eight Ballon d’Or, four Champions League wins, and a World Cup, Lionel Messi’s trophy cabinet is pretty full. But this week it got even fuller, with the 36-year-old Argentine winning his first MLS player of the month award for the first time. It follows an April run of six goals and four assists from just 315 minutes on the pitch.

The accolade didn’t come in time for the opening of the Messi Experience in Miami, a new immersive exhibition powered by artificial intelligence. Once you’ve handed over all your personal details (including a photo) you can even interact with a 3D, holographic Messi chatbot.

For a fuller taste of what it’s like inside the show, you can read the FT’s review here. After Miami, the Messi Experience will travel the world, taking in 80 cities, so you’ll probably get your chance to live it for real soon.

This week we’re asking what a vote this week on financial rules might mean for the future of the Premier League. Plus we examine a complex legal fight over the ownership of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Do read on — Josh Noble, sports editor

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English football’s next big import: spending caps

Keeping a lid on costs © REUTERS

All-star games, closed leagues and overseas matches may all be off the table for now, but the English Premier League is feeling more American by the day.

On Monday, the majority of clubs voted in favour of drawing up full proposals for a hard spending cap that would be tied to the TV income of the league’s bottom club — a system known as anchoring. A formal plan could be put to a binding vote as early as next month.

Spending caps have been one of the key structural factors in ensuring the financial success of US sports leagues. They prevent the wealthiest teams from simply amassing all the talent and blowing the competition away on the field, and help bake in margins by keeping a lid on costs. Incidentally, the Premier League’s two richest clubs by revenue — Manchester United and Manchester City — reportedly voted against the plan.

If introduced to the Premier League, the short-term effects of such a cap may be limited. Analysis from Kieran Maguire, an expert in football finance at the University of Liverpool, suggests that only one club — Chelsea — would currently fall foul of a limit pegged at 5 times the broadcast revenue of the lowest ranked team. In fact, most teams would gain extra headroom to spend. And the rules wouldn’t change until the 2025/26 season.

Over a longer horizon, the impact on the business model of football could be quite profound. Just as domestic TV revenue is stalling, anchoring should apply a firm brake to wage and transfer fee inflation — costs that have outstripped income growth for years and left European football with mounting debts and stubborn losses. It should also temper the financial power of state-backed clubs.

Combined with Uefa’s squad cost rule, which sets a limit of how much a club can spend on players relative to its income, a hard spending limit lays a potential path ahead to profits. That in turn should help increase club valuations, a key objective for many owners.

There is still some way to go. Players’ unions will fight tooth and nail to block anything they see as a salary cap. And Premier League clubs may yet get cold feet about doing anything that gives European rivals the chance to catch up or cements the dominance of the big teams.

But that the very idea of a hard spending cap has got this far shows just how quickly the mindset in football is changing.

The on- and off-court Minnesota Timberwolves spectacle 886a 4767 b3ae 1ea442b8045d
Timberwolves shooting guard Anthony Edwards gets a slam dunk last week in Phoenix, while an ongoing proposed sale of the franchise has been anything but. © USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Tonight, the Denver Nuggets will take on the Minnesota Timberwolves for the first game of the NBA’s Western Conference Semifinals, perhaps the most anticipated match-up of the entire 2024 playoffs between the defending champions and the hottest team in the region.

It is expected to be a fascinating battle pitting two-time MVP Nikola Jokić (and a finalist for this year’s award) and the Nuggets against the supernova slam-dunking 22-year old Wolves shooting guard Anthony Edwards. 

Adding to the spectacle will be a literal courtside drama: sitting on opposite sides of the floor in Minneapolis will be Wolves owner Glen Taylor, directly facing retired New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez and his business partner, the former Walmart executive Marc Lore. The two sides are in the middle of a tightly contested legal spat for ownership of the team, spurred at least in part by the Wolves’ unprecedented success.

To rewind: Taylor agreed to sell the Timberwolves and their sister club, the WNBA’s Lynx, to Lore and Rodriguez in 2021 for $1.5bn, a sale that both sides agreed to space out over several years through a series of call options. At the start of this year, Lore and Rodriguez had accumulated 36 per cent of the enterprise, and initiated a call for an additional 40 per cent of the club which would trigger the transfer of control. But on March 28, Taylor called off the entire sale, saying the pair hadn’t met the terms of their agreement by the option deadline.

We elaborate upon the resulting twists and turns in our FT story published today, which is well worth a read for some public bickering leading to an unsuccessful private mediation session in Minneapolis on Wednesday.

The battle for control of the Wolves and Lynx is now expected to head to arbitration, a process that likely won’t take place until later this year, well after the 2024 NBA Finals, should the Wolves progress that far.

At stake are two sides with bona fides to polish and legacies to avenge. Taylor, a self-made billionaire and former state senator for Minnesota, saved the Timberwolves from a potential franchise move to New Orleans under previous ownership, to the delight of fans who had already seen their hometown Lakers moved to Los Angeles.

But apart from a few successful seasons with hall of famer Kevin Garnett, the Wolves have never appeared in the Western Conference finals, let alone the NBA finals. After 29 years of ownership, Taylor may want a victory lap with the ascendant squad led by Edwards and all-stars Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns.

Lore and Rodriguez have said they are responsible for the hiring of Tim Connelly, current Wolves president of basketball operations, who helped orchestrate the consequential trade for Gobert in 2022 and who previously built the winning roster for — drumroll please — the current Denver Nuggets. Rodriguez and Lore are also both life-long sports fans with dreams of becoming control owners — a previous effort to buy the New York Mets in 2020 didn’t prevail against deep-pocketed Steve Cohen.

An additional wrinkle: since the 2021 contract between the parties, NBA franchise values have skyrocketed. Driven in part by the sales last year of the Phoenix Suns ($4bn) and the Charlotte Hornets ($3bn), the Wolves are now worth an estimated $2.5bn, according to Forbes.

Highlights ace4 4e5a a035 f6b964cb7935
Olympic Games: Paris prepares © AFP via Getty Images
  • Preparations in Paris for the Olympic Games this summer are in full swing, with organisers rushing to put up the temporary infrastructure that will transform famous sites across the French capital.

  • Liverpool FC secured a new home ground for its women’s team, in another sign of the game’s growth. LFC Women will play at St Helens Stadium in Merseyside, starting in 2024-25. The 10-year lease is also a boost to the finances of St. Helens RFC, the rugby league club that owns the stadium.

  • The £365mn joint venture between Manchester City’s parent group and Denver-based Oak View Group abruptly postponed the opening of Co-Op Live, the UK’s biggest indoor arena. The project points to how football club owners are attempting to diversify their revenue streams, but also the risks that come with ambition.

Transfer Market 7d5e 4c4e b110 69380d5257ae
Marathon man: Sir Jim Ratcliffe competing in last month’s London marathon © TOLGA AKMEN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
  • Manchester United’s incoming chief financial officer, Roger Bell, previously performed the same role at the sports arm of Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s petrochemicals empire Ineos. The appointment shows how the billionaire is reshaping the English football club after buying a significant minority stake from the Glazers and other shareholders.

  • Sportradar Group, the sports tech company, hired former Google computer scientist Behshad Behzadi as its new chief technology officer and head of artificial intelligence.

Final Whistle fbd1 47e8 bd9d 66ce56317120
MVB: Most-valuable beekeeper © AP

Just weeks after an expert apiarist saved the Indian Wells Open, the race for MVB (most valuable beekeeper) in sport is hotting up.

Matt Hilton is now the man to beat, after he swooped in to rescue the game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers from a swarm of bees. Hilton has become an overnight star, and was rewarded with the honour of throwing the game’s opening pitch. But the hype doesn’t stop there — trading card maker Topps has now released a special collectible in his honour. “Bee Afraid. Bee Very Afraid”, it reads. Watch here.

Scoreboard is written by Josh Noble, Samuel Agini and Arash Massoudi in London, Sara Germano, James Fontanella-Khan, and Anna Nicolaou in New York, with contributions from the team that produce the Due Diligence newsletter, the FT’s global network of correspondents and data visualisation team

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