International News

Apr 4, 2014

The Influence of Intellectual Property in Sports

by Steve Mc Ewan



GOAL!!!! Gareth Bale has just scored for Real Madrid. He runs to face the large cheering crowd and celebrates the goal by displaying his customary eleven of hearts symbol. That’s a normal scenario in a football match, a player celebrating his goal, but did we miss something in that celebration? Gareth Bale applied for a trademark for his celebratory eleven of hearts symbol.

Gareth Bale trademark heart symbol celebration

Did you know that a trademark is a form of Intellectual Property (IP)? IP is divided into two types of rights: Copyright and Related Rights and Industrial Property Rights. Copyright is a property right which subsists in literary and artistic works that are original intellectual creations in the literary and artistic domain. Related rights are property rights which subsist in performances, sound recordings and broadcasts. Industrial Property Rights protect trademarks, patents, industrial designs and geographic indications.

Individuals as well as companies can use a trademark to protect the reputation of their brand and prevent counterfeiting of their merchandise. A trademark is a sign capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one trader from those of other traders. The use of trademarks is highly prevalent in football. I am willing to bet that some of the most ardent Manchester United fans do not know that trademark applications for the Club’s crest and shield, as well as the Club’s name have been filed. By using and protecting its trademarks, Manchester United is able to reap the financial rewards associated with its popularity.

Furthermore, in today’s world, footballers are IP savvy. They use trademarks to ensure that they benefit financially from the use of their names. For instance, David Beckham has reinvented himself as a brand. He has protected his name as a trademark and has filed various applications under the IP system. As a result, he has made millions of dollars from endorsements and other sponsorship deals.

The global appeal and mass broadcasting of football games have made the sport a valuable avenue for major companies to advertise their goods and services. For instance, in a Barcelona FC football match, you will see the Nike “Swoosh” and the Qatar Airways name on the team’s jerseys. Barcelona FC receives £25M a year from Qatar Airways for allowing the Airline to place its logo on the front of the Barcelona team’s jerseys. The revenue received from this sponsorship is vital to the economic wellbeing and the future development of the Club.

Patents also make an important contribution to the development of football. A patent is the exclusive right granted by a government to an inventor to manufacture, use, or sell an invention for a certain number of years. Patents protect the IP of the patent owner and help encourage economic and technological development. Patent applications have been filed for Adidas’s Climacool technology and Nike’s Dri-fit clothing; both are used in football sporting apparel, as well as the Hawk-Eye goal line technology.

Related rights also make an important contribution to the development of football. To all die hard fanatics of the Barclay’s Premier League (BPL), the related broadcast rights of the BPL are protected under the IP system. The BPL owns the rights for the transmission of the broadcasts of its games and sells these rights to television broadcasters all over the world. It is projected that the sales from overseas broadcast rights for 2013 - 2016 will provide the BPL with an income between £1.7B and £2B annually. This revenue is allocated to the BPL teams at the end of the season. The 2013 Premier League champions, Manchester United, received approximately £60.8M in television revenue from the BPL. This money is used by BPL teams to develop their youth academies and purchase new players. Furthermore, smaller teams in the BPL depend on this revenue for their survival.

Although this article focused mainly on football, IP has been used by athletes in other sporting disciplines. For example, sprint champion Usain Bolt has filed for trademark protection for his “Lightning Bolt” pose and “to di world” slogan.  Basketball legend Michael Jordan has filed for trademark protection for his “Jumpman” pose. By using the IP system, these athletes have transitioned themselves from being mere athletes to valuable marketing brands with economic value.

In conclusion, the IP system has made a tremendous contribution to football and sport in general. The IP system has protected the inventions of sporting equipment manufacturers. It has also presented sporting organizations with avenues to receive additional forms of income through broadcasting rights, advertising and merchandising. Furthermore, IP has been instrumental in protecting the economic interests of footballers and athletes in general. In this regard, the sports fraternity owes a debt of gratitude to the IP system.