Marketing rights are being segmented as separate investments

Date: 09 Jun 2016


Ashley Hurst, partner at Osborne Clarke specialising in media and internet disputes, says sports stars have to rely on a complex combination of privacy, intellectual property, and data protection rights to protect their IP.

How do sports stars protect their image rights?

There is no such thing as image rights as such in the UK. Sports stars have privacy rights which sometimes allow them to control use of their image but the value is in contractual image rights. In other words, contracts of employment include provisions as to how images of the individual can be used for marketing purposes and specific payments that are made for such rights. Stopping third parties from then using such rights is more difficult; sports stars have to rely on a complex combination of privacy, intellectual property, and data protection rights. Sports bodies have also devised regulatory rules which govern how players can use image rights. Many top sports people now employ teams of people to crack down on companies taking advantage of sports images without consent.

Tell us about reputations and sport stars…

There are now countless top sports stars that have been affected by doping scandals and the financial impact on their earning power is massive as the majority of income for top stars comes from sponsorship. Most sponsors are quick to distance themselves from misconduct or cheating allegations and their contracts have clauses allowing them to get out, even if guilt hasn’t been proved. For guilty athletes the road to reputational recovery can be a very long one and it usually has to start with a sincere apology and some voluntary work to educate others. For the innocent, they need good lawyers and PR advisers.

What sports attract the biggest investments in the US?

American football, baseball and basketball in the US all present opportunities because of their huge earning power from sponsorship. These sports have top athletes earning millions of pounds a year from contracts with sports brands. For top golfers and tennis players, they can also attract luxury product brands and professional services firms who want visibility to a refined global audience and their longer careers may be more attractive to some.

What trends do you see in the sports sector?

I think we will see marketing rights being carved up into separate investments. For example, the ‘social media rights’ of a sports star may be a separate investment opportunity to clothing sponsorship rights.

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