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What are Footballer Image Rights, and How Do They Work?

Football is not just a sport. For many, especially in the UK, it is a way of life, even a raison d’etre – but, more importantly for those in the industry, it is just that: an industry. Football is a multi-million pound business nationally, with respect to clubs and even with respect to individual footballers. One of the crucial components to football business, particularly with regard to the latter category, is image rights. 

Image rights are a complex and sometimes murky world, but a vital one to understand for aspirant athletes and football businessfolk alike. Here, we will explore what football image rights are, how they work, and why they are essential in modern football.

What are Footballer Image Rights?

Footballer image rights are essentially a type of intellectual property, that give individual players the right to control how their image and likeness is used. Image rights are different from the player’s contractual rights, which usually cover their performance on the field. Footballers’ image rights allow them to earn money from the commercial use of anything that can be attributed to their image – from a particular unique hair style to their squad number and beyond.

In the world of football, image rights are generally controlled by the player in question’s agent, who negotiates deals with sponsors, advertisers, and other commercial partners in order to maximise both brand reach and profitability. Image rights agreements can be lucrative for players, often worth millions of pounds alone for world-class household names in the sport.

How Do They Work?

Footballer image rights work by granting players the exclusive right to use their name, image, and likeness for commercial purposes. This means that anyone who wants to use a player’s image for commercial purposes, such as on branded merchandise or in sponsored advertising, must seek the player’s permission and agree on a fee.

In some cases, footballers can sell their image rights to a third party in exchange for a lump sum payment. In these specific cases, the third party – be it an individual or a management company – would then handle all commercial deals on the player’s behalf and take a percentage of the revenue generated.

Why Are Footballer Image Rights Necessary?

Footballer image rights are essential in modern football as a route to secondary and additional income – not just for players, but also for the clubs they play for. Image rights agreements can be used to attract top talent to a club, and they can help players earn more money throughout their careers. They can also be used to protect a player’s reputation and ensure that their image is not used in a manner contrary or harmful to their brand.

A powerful example of how image rights can affect a footballer’s career can be found in Paulo Dybala’s failed transfer to Tottenham Hotspur in 2019. Dybala’s image rights were owned by his former agent’s management company ‘Star Image’, significantly complicating transfer negotiations between Juventus and Tottenham. Tottenham had to attempt to negotiate a separate deal with Star Image to acquire Dybala’s image rights alongside their negotiations with Juventus, which led to the collapse of the transfer.

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