By: Euan Cunningham
Wanda Group, the Chinese conglomerate, has made a major commitment to athletics with the announcement today of a 10-year deal to become the title sponsor of the IAAF Diamond League, while subsidiary Infront, the international sports agency, will be responsible for distributing media rights going forward.
The title sponsorship comes into effect next year, while Infront will market broadcasting rights from 2025 to 2029 under the agreement announced at the IAAF Congress in Doha.
The tie-up represents Infront's first partnership in international athletics, as it will replace IMG, the international sports and entertainment company that has been working on the Diamond League since 2009, and has a contract through to 2024.
Financial values have not been disclosed but Sebastian Coe, who was today re-elected unopposed as IAAF president for a further four-year term, described the deal with Wanda as "the biggest single commercial partnership in the history of athletics."
Although its deal for the Diamond League does not kick in until 2025, Infront will distribute media rights to a second-tier circuit due to be launched in 2020 as an upgrade on the existing World Challenge Series of one-day events.
Infront's most recent foray into track and field came in July 2018 when it signed a six-year partnership with FIDAL, the Italian athletics federation, that entails media and sponsorship rights sales, event organisation and new project development. The contract is worth a guaranteed €12.9 million ($15.1 million) over the course of the contract.
Infront told Sportcal: "We identified athletics as a sport with major potential to grow and made a competitive offer... Our proposal to the IAAF was based on our confidence and long-term experience.
"With the new international series due to start next year and the IAAF expanding into new markets it was the perfect chance for Infront to open a dialogue."
The IAAF has been searching for a new Diamond League title sponsor since 2017 when changes to the calendar and event schedule, now ready for 2020, were first mooted.
The competition has not had a major partner since 2012 when Samsung pulled out after three seasons.
In a statement Hengming Yang, Wanda’s chief executive, said: “Wanda is committed to working together with IAAF and the Diamond League to further grow athletics in China and all over the world. The objective to bring top-class sporting events to China is at the heart of Wanda’s mission.”
Wanda is already a major sponsor of Fifa and FIBA, the respective international governing bodies for soccer and basketball, in long-term deals.
Other aspects of the Wanda-IAAF partnership include: a future annual Diamond League meeting in China to be organised by Wanda; co-operation between Wanda and the IAAF in developing Chinese youth athletics; and the Chinese conglomerate receiving the rights to co-host the IAAF gala awards ceremony in China.
The 2020 season will see radical structural and format-based changes to the Diamond League. The IAAF announced in March this year that the number of meetings will be reduced from 14 to 12, plus an end-of-season final, while the number of disciplines will be reduced from 32 to 24 (12 male and 12 female), with the longest distance for runners being 3,000 metres.
Although the proposed changes came in for criticism at the time, Coe and the IAAF believe they will encourage new viewers athletics, and that they will also prove a more attractive proposition for broadcasters.
Coe, who first took office in 2015, today received the backing of all 203 member national associations to serve a further four-year term as president.
The former track star wants athletics to move on from the Russian doping scandal that has cast a cloud over athletics during his tenure, saying today: "I do hope my second term isn’t dominated by Russia. It’s been a tough four years, there’s no point being coy about that.
“The work we’re doing around the Diamond League, as well as creating a tour that will sit below the Diamond League, the coordinated calendar, the formats for beefing up the one-day meetings circuit – those are all the things I signed up for four years ago.
“I really hope this second term can be one in which we seriously focus on on-field matters, and that when we sit down in four years’ time we can look back at the same level of delivery as in the first term, but this time focused on the actual growth of the sport.”
Among the new IAAF vice-presidents elected today were a first woman in Ximena Restrepo, the Colombian former Olympic 400-metres bronze medallist.
Restrepo said: “I just hope I can do a good job. I’d like to thank all of the member federations who voted for me, and I hope I can be all that they expect me to be.”
Prior to the voting, it was revealed that Ahmed Al-Kamali, the president of the UAE athletics federation who had put his name forward as a vice-president, had been suspended for potentially violating the various candidacy rules in place, as well as the IAAF’s integrity code of conduct.