Oct 6, 2010

The Rise and Rise of Image Rights in Football

By Marcus Cleaver

“È arrivato ama un re, e parte come un ladro” roughly translates as ‘He came as a King and leaves as a thief’. These were the rather poetic words used in Italian daily sports paper Corriere Dello Sport back in 2002 to describe the transfer of Ronaldo from Internazionale to Real Madrid. Meanwhile in Madrid, their sporting director, Jose Angel Sanchez, gave the words a bit more context by explaining that “image rights will be the fastest growing revenue line for football clubs in the future.” He was half right; image rights are hugely important to clubs and continue to be so but they are also of great importance to the players themselves, often as a supplement to wages at their respective clubs. A lot of players have recognised this fact and some, such as Michael Owen, have even created their own management companies to deal with this aspect of their income.

This coin though has two sides as Wayne Rooney found out this week when he was all over our screens as the face of one product but subsequently removed from another advertising campaign as a result of allegations surrounding his personal life. Whichever side you are on in the FIFA v Pro Evo debate there is no denying that the former will sell thousands of copies after being released last Friday and Mr. Rooney will have been paid £237,378 simply in image rights. Now though Coca Cola has ignominiously dropped the 24 year-old Manchester United star from their latest campaign as allegations surrounding his personal life have been described as ”appalling” by bosses at the American soft-drinks giant. Worrying times then for Rooney as he reportedly earns £600,000 a year from this deal alone and the thought at the back of his mind will no doubt be: ‘who will be next to pull out?’

Considering that EA Sports (makers of FIFA) stuck with Tiger Woods, who makes Rooney look like Mr. Darcy by comparison, it is unlikely that he will be dropped by them but the analogy with Woods is useful. The golfer almost literally started to bleed money once his extra-marital affairs were revealed and it seemed that as another new lover came out of the woodwork, another advertising contract went down the drain. Woods has not been the force on the golf course since his return and it has to be said that Rooney has been invisible for Manchester United in the past month. The revelations begin a downward spiral with publicity affecting both image rights revenue and performance; a rut from which it is hard to escape.

Of course only ten years ago most fans would not even have heard of image rights as they first began to emerge in relation to Real Madrid. It wasn’t long before the rest of the football world caught on though and the notable English example is David Beckham. Indeed throughout the last decade it is Beckham who has become the figurehead of developments in the area taking it to new areas such as use of his voice with Vodafone and his adornment of casual clothing with Marks & Spencers. Beckham has cultivated a carefully constructed personality which, according to the Financial Times, allows him to “transcend football” and be just as popular amongst non-football fans; “a marketing person’s dream.” With this in mind it is no wonder that the former Manchester United star was quick to refute recent allegations that he had sex with a prostitute and is now sueing the woman for £5m.

Wayne Rooney is not so lucky as to be able to deny the allegations brought against him and is now suffering the consequences. He may have made a cool £2.5m from selling his wedding photos to OK! but this also means he is regarded as a family man and has a reputation to live up to. Beckham understood this and accepted the responsibilities that came with the income from image rights but Rooney is only beginning to grasp this when it is too late. To use Tiger Woods again and his famous apology, he said: “I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me.” This equally applies to the England football star who must learn that whilst all the trappings of image rights are fantastic, they can just as easily become a curse.

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