The image of sport has changed. Over the last 20 years the cult
of celebrity has become fully entrenched within most high profile
sports. The reasons behind this are many, but the overriding result
is that those who are at the top of their game will now be treated
with the same degree of recognition and renown as film stars, rock
stars and other celebrities. In addition, the ability of those
sports personalities to earn from their fame has increased
exponentially as a result.
This creates an interesting situation; the sports personality
earns income from doing their 'day job' but the bulk of
their income will now be derived from endorsement deals and
sponsorship. The payment for these deals will be based on the
licensing of their image rights. Not only this, but that nonplaying
income has the ability to continue long after the playing income
ceases. This leaves us with the situation of having to manage these
image rights for a long periods and developing an image rights
strategy based on each particular player's requirements. Due to
the increasing complexity of image rights deals and processes, this
is an area that requires expert guidance in order to achieve the
In addition to these considerations, the very notion of image
rights is hugely problematic from a UK perspective. Under UK law,
there is no definition of an image right per se, and the Courts
have struggled with various ways in order to try to fill this gap.
As a result, the protection offered to the celebrity or personality
client are few and far between, with none of the options delivering
a real solution. Even where the personality has established an
image rights company, if the management of those underlying rights
is not conducted properly, there may be significant repercussions
at a later date.
(Gareth Bale has trademarked his 'eleven of hearts'
At the end of 2012, Guernsey introduced the world's first
registrable image right - giving the ability to register, licence,
clarify and protect what has, to date, been a rag bag of limited
rights. Since the end of 2012, the register has seen applications
from DJs, hairdressers, tennis players, brand consultants and
musicians. Apart from being on the register, these people all have
in common an ability to generate significant wealth from the use of
their image quite apart from what they might do for their day
The Guernsey Image Right allows personalities to register their
images, nicknames, videos, mannerisms and any distinctive
characteristics that identify them. These rights will be registered
on the register and can include all of those features that are so
difficult to define in a contract. Image rights contracts typically
contain vague definitions for 'gestures' or
'mannerisms' which are now able to be clearly defined and
can be directly referred to in relevant contracts. There are
several main advantages to registering a formal right, not only for
clarity of right, but also for succession planning, wealth
management and potential enforcement. One only has to think about
the difficulties faced by the estate of Seve Ballesteros and the
naming rights associated with the late golfer to realise that the
potential for problems can continue long after a playing career is
over. With such valuable assets, it seems silly to leave such
ambiguity to the drafting and the potential for
One of the by-products of modern sport is the emergence of the
personal brand, something which was not perceived until recent
times. This value has to be harnessed and nurtured in order to
provide the player with the best value over their playing career
and beyond. It is clear to us that the cult of sports celebrity
will only grow larger as time passes. Sports stars now have very
lucrative sponsorship deals which long outlive their paying
careers. As a result of this, a far more systematic approach is
necessary to ensure that these rights are properly managed for the
long term. By considering the value of a player's image rights
as part of a larger portfolio of intellectual property rights,
enables both preservation and growth of these valuable assets.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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