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Football’s January transfer window slammed shut on Thursday night after an extremely quiet month. Premier League spending tumbled (a bit more on that below) as clubs took a closer look at their own books and decided to be frugal, for once.
But we did see one monster move, with the news that Formula One racing driver Lewis Hamilton has signed up with Ferrari from the 2025 season. It marks the end of an era for the sport, with Hamilton ditching the Mercedes team that brought him six of his seven world driver’s championships. Instead he’ll be hoping to go one better than fellow seven-time victor Michael Schumacher while sporting the iconic speech of the scuderia.
The biggest winner in all this? Netflix. Drive to Survive has been crying out for some new plot lines, and fans can now look forward to Hamilton’s ‘Last Dance’ year with Mercedes, and his debut season with the Italians.
In this week’s Scoreboard, we’re looking at the other big stories of the week, including the PGA Tour’s big Saudi Arabia-free investment deal, and David Rubenstein’s $1.7bn move into baseball ownership. Do read on — Josh Noble, sports editor
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The PGA Tour beefs up its defenses with US cash
For more than two years, the PGA Tour has been hounded by a rebel golf league flush with Saudi cash.
The US group, for so long the dominant force in golf, has lost some of the biggest draws in the sport, from Phil Mickelson to Cameron Smith. Even after calling a truce with the Saudi sovereign wealth fund last June, LIV poached Masters champion Jon Rahm.
That suspension of hostilities did have the benefit of ending litigation between the Public Investment Fund and the tour. But investment into a new commercial entity was meant to follow from the Saudi fund. At the end of the year the deadline came and went.
But the tour’s tense negotiations with the PIF elicited interest from investors closer to home, pushing the golf establishment into the arms of some of America’s richest sports owners.
As an aside, four consulting firms, including McKinsey and BCG, are under political pressure due to their work with PIF.
This week, the tour approved a deal for a group of investors led by Liverpool FC and Boston Red Sox owner John Henry and his Fenway Sports Group to buy into the new entity.
Together with investors including hedge fund manager Steve Cohen and Atlanta Falcons NFL franchise owner Arthur Blank, Henry and Fenway are paying up to $3bn for a minority stake.
It’s a landmark moment for the tour, which had struggled against the financial might of the oil-powered PIF.
Critically, the cash infusion shores up the tour’s defenses against the PIF.
However, the deal came at a price. The players, who were blindsided by the tour’s truce with PIF, wanted a bigger piece of the spoils. They’re now in line for more than $1.5bn of equity grants. Details remain scanned as the program is yet to be finalized. And after the LIV-driven growth of prize purses and other financial regards, that’s another sign of how players have seized the initiative in this battle.
Now it’s on the tour to make the new business model pay.
The Baltimore Orioles: changing hands, wanting to put
It’s been an emotional week for Baltimore sports fans. Last Sunday, the city’s National Football League franchise, the Ravens, narrowly lost their bid for a berth in the Super Bowl, following defeat at the hands of defending champions, the Kansas City Chiefs.
Then, late on Tuesday, Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein reached an agreement to buy Major League Baseball’s Orioles for $1.73bn. The coalition buying the team — Rubenstein, a Baltimore native, along with Ares Management chief Michael Arougheti and Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. — wasn’t as surprising as the timing.
Just six weeks earlier, Maryland legislature sealed an agreement with current Orioles owners, the Angelos family, to keep the team in the mid-Atlantic metropolis for 30 more years. The Orioles’ lease at Camden Yards, their ballpark since 1992, was due to expire in December.
Baltimore in particular is sensitive to the prospect of losing its sports teams, after their former National Football League franchise, the Colts, was relocated to Indianapolis literally overnight in March 1984.
But John Angelos, son of the 94-year-old Orioles owner Peter Angelos, had made it his mission to keep the team in town. He said publicly last year that the Orioles “are never going anywhere”, but also expressed an ambition to catch up to rival baseball clubs in Boston and Atlanta who have added new entertainment options at their stadiums. “How are we going to compete and keep pace?” he asked in a New York Times interview last summer.
As such, the sale agreement by the Angelos family to Rubenstein and company caught Maryland state officials by surprise. Although the lease agreement is binding, the state treasurer, Dereck Davis, told local media that the younger Angelos had “categorically denied that the [Orioles] were for sale” in December. “I feel lied to. “I feel misled,” he said.
Forging good relationships with local and state officials is essential for any modern US sports owner. Maryland Governor Wes Moore said he “looks forward to continuing the strong relationship between the state of Maryland and the Orioles. . “We are proud that this transaction won’t change that”.
As for Rubenstein, his reign at the helm won’t be immediate. For one thing, the sale is still subject to approval by MLB and its owners. Crucially, however, he will begin with a 40 per cent stake and will only assume full ownership after the eventual passing of Peter, in order to help the family avoid additional tax burdens.
Symbolically, the sale of the Orioles reflects a wider shift in US sports ownership, as Wall Street titans take the reins from local dynasties.
Register now for the Business of Football Summit
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Rugby needs to embrace change and take risks if it wants to tap into a younger audience, the chief executive of Six Nations Rugby told us in an exclusive interview.
Chelsea Women commercial director Zarah Al-Kudcy says it’s time for clubs to pick up the pace to grow sponsorship revenues, as hopes grow that the Women’s Super League can tap into its growing popularity.
Manchester United’s new chief executive is set to join from rivals Manchester City in the coming months. Get to know the man who left the treble winners for a fallen giant of the game in the FT’s exclusive interview.
Formula One rejected a bid by Andretti to join the grid in 2026, despite the US company gaining approval from the sport’s governing body. However, F1 left the door open to Andretti’s entry in 2028, after new financial terms have been agreed for prospective new teams.
(A subdued) Transfer Market
Analysts and agents blamed financial fair play rules — or rather their tougher enforcement — for sending a chill through the European transfer market in January. Spending by English Premier League clubs dropped to £100mn from £715mn last year — although that too was an outlier thanks to Chelsea’s trolley dash.
The drop-off in the market may well prove temporary, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. Many investors have built their case for buying into football on the idea of selling players on to the top clubs for lots of money. Meanwhile those backing elite teams are keeping to put a lid on player costs so that they can start making some real profits. Can they both be right?
Pirates! Samurai! A Wild West shootout! One of the guys from Peaky Blinders!
Boxing has never been one for modesty or subtlety. But the new promotional video for the upcoming (but now delayed) fight in Riyadh between Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury to crown the first undisputed champion in 20 years is next level bonkers.
And if you missed our profile on the Ukrainian heavyweight champion, you can get caught up 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 visualization team