Monetizing the image of players

Historically, clubs have traditionally paid its players for playing football. As football becomes more commercial and highly branded, this relationship is continuously evolving: clubs understand the opportunity to grow a multitude of commercial partnerships that enables brands to be associated with club and their high-profile players.

Looking at a wide range of commercial deals we have advised on, a player’s image can include:

  • The player’s name
  • Nicknames
  • Likeness
  • Image
  • Photograph
  • Signature
  • Autograph
  • Initials
  • Statements
  • Endorsement
  • Physical details
  • Voice and other personal characteristics

What happens in practice, is that a club and/or brand will pay a player to endorse, promote and advocate a number of specific commercial deals or brand connections.

Image rights and players

The first condition to set up an image rights company for a player, is that the individual has a valuable image for sponsors. Here we learn this is an important argument for tax reasons (tax regulations on image rights differ strongly from salary tax regulations).

Once the image right is transferred to an image rights company, the company will contract with the player’s club and commercial partners and when the player is transferred to another club, both an employment contract and image rights agreement can be negotiated.

In negotiation, it is important to know how much income one can expect to generate for paying the player for those rights.

  • Best practice seems to be to discuss image rights before the player’s salary negotiation.

Image rights from a club perspective

The standard Premier League employment contract that each Premier League enters into with his club, mentions: “the Club’s use of the Player’s Image must not be greater than the average for all first team players”.

This means that if a club and its commercial partners want to use the image of a star player more often than that of other players (which is relevant), it becomes vital to contract separately with that particular player through an image rights deal to have control of those rights in order to use the image across a range of sponsorship opportunities. If the player owns his image through a company, the club will need to contract with that company.