The Tip-Off | How The Rock can turn fiction into reality with the XFL

Other plotlines that may or may not come to define the sports industry... virtual influencers are coming to your social media feeds.

The Tip-Off
By The Tip-Off | 4 August 2020

Between The Rock and a hard place

No one can really be sure where fiction ends and reality begins with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, but his most recent endeavour blurs the lines even further. By acquiring the XFL, the bankrupt spring football league established by his former boss Vince McMahon, Johnson has gone from marketing tool to owner in less than 20 years.

Don’t be surprised if all of this turned out to be the elaborate plot for an unexpected comeback of Ballers, the entertaining if slightly boorish drama where Johnson plays a retired National Football League (NFL) star turned businessman called Spencer Strasmore. Throughout the show’s five series Strasmore consistently rails against the establishment on behalf of the players. Now he is the establishment, will things be different?

Do not let this man buy your club

Energy drinks hypeman William Storey says he has launched a bid to buy downtrodden third-tier English soccer club Sunderland.

Whilst Storey’s arrival would make for an excellent addition to the next Netflix series of Sunderland ‘Til I Die, it is worth considering his credentials. Storey is the chief executive of Rich Energy, a supposed Red Bull rival that no one has ever actually seen, someone who likes to brag about having wealthy backers and a jet set lifestyle but the brand’s flashy entry into Formula One ended in tears.

Storey may not have made any dissidents disappear (hi Saudi Arabia) or pushed the boundaries of employment law (hi Mike Ashley), but he does appear to believe the coronavirus pandemic is an elaborate hoax

Given the English Football League’s (EFL) recent record with its less-than-stringent owners and directors test, perhaps it is best that Sunderland’s story continues without William.

Fake news

Liam Nikuro is just like any other social media influencer. His Instagram feed is filled with carefully curated images showing off his fantasy lifestyle of partying with musicians, exercising without breaking into a sweat, and even getting inside the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Orlando bubble. Except none of it is real. Nikuro is a CGI-created avatar dreamed up by a Japanese company called 1sec Inc and licensed to the Washington Wizards as their first ever ‘official virtual influencer’. Exactly how the Wizards will use Nikuro in their content is unclear, but the possibilities are literally endless.

Toon out the white noise

Occasional SportsPro Podcast guest (and former columnist) Matt Slater’s piece for The Athletic on Saudi Arabia’s failed takeover of Newcastle United is an excellent read and spells out precisely why the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) failed to get the deal over the line. SPOILER ALERT: it was not the human rights violations.

Here is the key quote from an unnamed source that says everything you need to know: 

“Forget all the other excuses. The deal has been dead in the water ever since Saudi responded to the WTO decision by doing exactly the opposite of what was required. The Premier League told them nearly a month ago that the PIF was the state and the state has been stealing from them, and that must stop or the deal is stuck.”

Same, same but different

“Once again there is a sort of storm against Fifa relating to the Qatar World Cup. Sadly there’s a great deal of discrimination and racism and this hurts me.” Sepp Blatter, ex-Fifa president, speaking in 2014.

‘There is no description of criminal conduct of any kind that has been communicated to Fifa. There is something a little grotesque and unfair in all this because we are 100 per cent confident there will never be a criminal charge against the Fifa president.’ A Fifa statement, issued on 3rd August 2020, responds to a Swiss criminal investigation launched against Blatter’s successor, Gianni Infantino. 

A failed pitch

“Randy Levine is a great friend of mine from the [New York] Yankees,” said President Trump, referring to the Major League Baseball (MLB) team’s president. “And he asked me to throw out the first pitch, and I think I’m doing that on 15th August at Yankee Stadium.”

Fact check: Trump was not invited but decided to get the old dog whistle out to create an excuse…

Prediction: He will not make it later in the season.

Leaked email of the week

Good news story of the week

Brooklyn Nets star and dubious scientist Kyrie Irving has pledged US$1.5 million to Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) players who have opted against playing the 2020 season in their own Florida bubble.

In a league where the top annual salary is a little more than US$200,000, Irving’s funding will supplement the income of players who choose not to play over coronavirus concerns or for social justice reasons. The cash coming from the KAI Empowerment Initiative also provides players with a financial literacy programme created by UBS.

Obvious truths

'Being antiracist is not political. Being antiracist is central to our core human principles and, therefore, an embodiment of everything the Olympic Games symbolises.'

These are the words of Los Angeles 2028 Olympics organising committee chairman Casey Wasserman in his letter to International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, as seen by Sportico. The chief executive of his eponymous agency giant is urging the Olympic body to encourage, rather than punish, athlete advocacy on social justice issues. The issue is the Olympic Charter’s Rule 50, which currently states: ‘No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.’

Other plotlines that may or may not come to define the sports industry… virtual influencers are coming to your social media feeds.