Over the past month, Kawhi Leonard, one of the NBA’s most iconic players, has continuously been in the news for leading the Toronto Raptors its first ever NBA championship. However, Leonard has also made news for his actions off the court. On June 3rd, Leonard initiated a lawsuit against Nike for ownership rights to a logo (seen below) that he claims Nike stole, “fraudulently” filed a copyright application for, and threatened to sue him over. The case is a great example of why individuals (in the esports context, players and streamers) must make sure that the ownership rights in their intellectual property are clearly established, expressed, and protected to the fullest extent prior to entering into sponsorships, endorsements, or other types of licensing arrangements.
In his complaint, Leonard begins by stating that he originally created his logo while in college, long before he entered into three-year endorsement deal with Nike. This is an important fact in the case because if true, under United States copyright law, Leonard would have obtained ownership rights to the logo upon its creation.
After making this assertion, Leonard explains that Nike started discussions with him about developing a unique logo to affix on its merchandise shortly after he signed his endorsement deal with the company. Since Leonard had already created a logo, he maintains that Nike repeatedly asked to revise his existing logo, and sent him multiple modified designs based upon the mark he created. After denying several mock-ups, Leonard finally approved a refined design, and authorized Nike to use it on its merchandise.
Throughout the term of their relationship, which had been extended to July 2018, Leonard believed that he retained ownership in the refined logo since it was based on his original design and he never expressly transferred any ownership rights in the mark to Nike – he only authorized Nike’s use of the mark. However, Nike also believed it was the true owner of the new refined mark, and the company even filed an application with the United States Copyright Office to register the mark. Nike’s application was granted in 2017 and its registration lists the company as the sole author and owner of the mark, and describes itself as an “employer for hire.”
Typically, these types of endorsement agreements will include language that provides the company with ownership rights in any intellectual property created by the company during the term of the agreement. This language defines the business as an “employer for hire,” which signifies that it will own any designs created by its employees or independent contractors, as these designs are considered works made for hire. Still, this type of provision would not apply to marks that were created by an individual prior to entering into agreement, which appears to be the case here. Generally, in those situations, the owner of the mark would either sell the mark outright, or agree to license it to the business at the outset of their partnership. In both situations, a written agreement would clearly define ownership rights in the intellectual property and any modifications to the mark.
Here, Nike may try to argue that the “refined mark” was completely different than Leonard’s original logo in hopes of establishing its own copyright in the mark. It may also contend that Leonard expressly transferred any ownership rights in the mark to the company once it made modifications. In either event, Nike will need to provide strong evidence corroborating its argument. While it appears the parties are approaching this matter cordially, executing a well-drafted licensing agreement at the inception of their relationship would have prevented this matter from escalating to this point.
How does this apply to esports?
As the profiles of many players and streamers in the esports industry continue to increase in popularity, these individuals need to be mindful of their intellectual property. They must take the appropriate steps to ensure that ownership of such property is clearly established in all agreements and protected to its fullest extent. This is especially necessary for players and streamers when entering into endorsement or sponsorship agreements with companies, as these businesses may look to use or further develop an individual’s existing intellectual property. As seen with the Leonard case, this is particularly critical with any associated logos or marks. Clearly establishing and expressing ownership rights in a mark will make it apparent to the business that an individual owns the mark it wishes to use.
In order to do so appropriately, individuals should first ensure that they legally own their mark. Oftentimes players and streamers hire parties to design their mark for them. In this case, individuals must make sure that they receive a written work-for-hire agreement from any party who designs their mark. This agreement will state that any rights to the design have been assigned from the artist to the streamer or player. Without this agreement in place, the designer may still have ownership interest in the mark.
Players and streamers should also look to register their mark with United States Copyright Office and United States Patent and Trademark Office. In most cases, proof of copyright and trademark registrations will provide a party with strong evidence of ownership rights in a mark, and also provide them with a number of other benefits.
Once these measure are taken and retention of ownership is firmly in place, individuals can express their ownership rights in mark to any company that wishes to enter into an endorsement deal and proceed to license their mark effectively.
Distinguishing ownership rights to intellectual property can become increasingly difficult when multiple parties begin to use such intellectual property, like a logo. Since companies executing endorsement or sponsorship deals may look to use or further develop a player or streamer’s mark in the activation of these agreements, individuals must make sure that their ownership rights in the mark are clearly defined and expressed to the company at the outset of their relationship. By doing so, companies will be aware of the individual’s rights in a mark and look to license the mark appropriately. Effectively executing this type of agreement should prevent any ownership confusion and/or subsequent litigation, saving both parties time and money.
(This post is the third in our series on sponsorship considerations. Our first post, on defining expectations and payments, can be found here and our second post, on defining exclusivity, can be found here)
The last topic we will discuss in our sponsorship essentials series is intellectual property rights in sponsorship agreements. Just like the concerns we’ve already covered, intellectually property rights can easily become convoluted if not explicitly addressed in the terms of the agreement. These rights are at the core of a sponsorship agreement and are essential to its successful activation. The very nature of sponsorship centers around the usage of another brand for promotional purpose. A standard agreement will grant the sponsored party (licensee) the right to use the sponsoring party’s (licensor) name and logo in a specified manner (like a patch on a team jersey) and for a defined period of time. However, there are other intellectual property concerns to be aware of with respect to sponsorship agreements.
Defining control and ownership
Any sponsorship agreement should also precisely outline any rights associated with control over the licensed brand usage. In these agreements, parties will typically want control over: (1) the message being expressed in specific sponsorship activations, and (2) ownership of any content created as a result of an activation.
Control over the message being expressed in an activation is important to sponsors because it gives the sponsor the ability to determine whether any specific content being utilized for the activation is appropriate or in line with the brand image that the sponsor wishes to convey. An involved sponsor may negotiate for approval rights before any sponsored content is posted to ensure that the appropriate message is being delivered in conjunction with its branding. An established sponsor may not want to risk receiving any potential backlash from an inexperienced sponsee who posts controversial content. However, there are also many sponsors who don’t have the time to vet and approve potential sponsor content, so this may not be of concern to them. Instead, they’ll simply hold the sponsee accountable after any problematic content has been posted.
A sponsor may also want to own all IP rights associated with the content created during the activation of the sponsorship. This is particularly evident in streamer sponsorship agreements. Sponsors will want to own the content in which its IP or product is being used so that it can potentially utilize the video for promotional purposes at a later date. For an ongoing, “use on stream” deal, this equates to essentially owning the content of someone’s stream for the duration of the sponsorship agreement. Sponsees should be aware that granting this type of control to a sponsor would be problematic because it would effectively eliminate many of the rights the streamer had in the content of their stream, and their potential monetization of the stream.
As the streaming and esports industries continue to grow, companies will continue to flock to the market to align with new and trendy brands. Whether the sponsor is a well established company or not, it is important to consider all of the terms included in any potential agreement before entering into it. The specific provisions discussed in this series of articles are a good place to start when deciding whether you are being adequately protected in a sponsorship deal, but they are by no means the only terms to consider. Every provision in an agreement is significant and should be evaluated independently and within the context of the agreement as a whole. If you are a business, a player, streamer, or influencer, feel free to contact us to assist with your sponsorship agreements.
(Image used via creative commons, courtesy of BusinessSarah)
(This post is the second on our series on sponsorship considerations. Our first post, on defining expectations and payments, can be found here)
In all sponsorship negotiations, the issue of exclusivity is perhaps the single most important topic of discussion. Exclusivity is significant because it prohibits a sponsee (the company/individual being sponsored) from entering into other sponsorships, whether at large or in specified categories. Sponsors will often push for complete exclusivity over broad sponsorship categories because this protection provides the sponsor with an uninterrupted spotlight for their brand. For example, a drink sponsor like Cola-Cola will not want to pay top dollar for a sponsorship deal if the sponsee can simultaneously enter into an agreement with Pepsi. It is easy to see why a sponsor would want this type of protection, but a sophisticated sponsee should be aware that exclusivity can be tailored to better reflect the desires of both parties to the sponsorship.
An effective exclusivity provision starts with detailed communication. Both parties need to know what each side expects the exclusive product category to include. Sponsors will want the product category to be as broad as possible in order limit the amount of competitors. For instance, a company that offers nutritional supplements may try to expand its product category to include nutritional bars, protein shakes, and other types of supplements. In response, sponsees should try to limit the scope of the exclusive product category to be as narrow as possible. Using the above example, if a sponsee can limit the category to only include nutritional bars, it will have more flexibility when soliciting additional sponsors for the protein shakes and other supplement categories. This flexibility allows for potentially greater sponsorship revenue.
However, newer organizations, players, or influencers, may find it difficult to negotiate the scope of the rights to their advantage. Nonetheless, sponsees should at least make sure the categories and exclusivity are thoroughly defined to curb potential sponsor overreach. A sponsor may believe its deal as a sponsee’s “exclusive camera” would preclude a sponsee from entering into another deal with a company like Panasonic, who sells a variety of products including cameras, headphones, and televisions. A sponsee should insist that any obligation it has to not enter into a deal with a competing sponsor (exclusivity) is limited to the category that the sponsorship is in. Unfortunately for sponsors, a sponsee would still be able to enter into a deal with Panasonic as long as it only agreed to endorse a Panasonic product that did not fall under a protected category. While this may not be ideal for the current camera sponsor, an explicitly defined product category would inform sponsors of any limitations and hopefully clear up any potential confusion or issues that may arise down the line when partnering with multiple sponsors.
Another matter the parties to a sponsorship should be aware of is whether any restrictions are imposed by third parties. Frequently in traditional sports and esports, leagues will prevent teams, and teams will prevent players, from entering into sponsorship agreements within its own defined “Reserved Categories.” A Reserved Category is effectively a sponsorship category in which the restricted party is contractually required to not obtain sponsors in. For example, if a league has an exclusive sponsorship with Alienware and it has specified in its league participation agreement that the PC category was protected or reserved from teams, then a team could not enter into a sponsorship which would include PCs. This also occurs between teams and players in their player contracts, with players having certain sponsorship categories closed off to them. Importantly, it is in everyone’s best interest that these Reserved Categories are well defined, so as to avoid any possible confusion and disputes.
Negotiating exclusivity rights can be difficult but it is in all parties’ best interests to have a clear picture of what specific products are being protected and the associated rights/obligations. Without this, a number of potential problems can exist, which may ultimately harm the sponsorship relationship.
Our next post will discuss the various intellectual property concerns when entering into a sponsorship agreement.
Sponsorships are integral to the esports and sports industries as they provide a vital stream of revenue to their recipients. As 2018 is shaping up to be the biggest year for non-endemic sponsorships in the history of esports, it is important to keep in mind some basic sponsorship considerations when reviewing any sponsorship agreement. Specifically, the agreement’s expectations/obligations, payment, intellectual property, and exclusivity terms are key areas of any sponsorship agreement that you should pay close attention to. This post will address the expectations and payment provisions of a sponsorship agreement, and subsequent posts will discuss considerations regarding intellectual property and exclusivity.
When executed correctly, a sponsorship is a valuable arrangement because it is designed to benefit both parties. The foundation of a sponsorship is the expectations and obligations involved, and here we begin to see the mutually beneficial arrangement comes in to view. What is the sponsoring company asking of me? What are you receiving in exchange for the sponsorship? These questions are the starting point for an analysis of the expectations and obligations involved in a sponsorship agreement.
The key to an effective sponsorship agreement starts with both parties’ expectations being clearly defined. Without a precise description of each party’s obligations, the parties will, at least partly, be unaware of what is expected, making it difficult to properly fulfill their obligations. This ambiguity can often lead to arguments, terminations, or even breach of contract lawsuits. Considering that it’s in the best interest of both parties to develop a long-standing business relationship, avoiding conflicts through precise wording is beneficial to everyone.
Both parties should articulate its goals for the deal and explain how they plans to achieve their goals. For example, if a company wants to sponsor to a team and its players, requiring the players wear clothing with the company logo prominently displayed, it is imperative to specify when the company wants the team, and its players, to do this. With teams constantly pushing out content on various social media platforms and players doing the same on their individual accounts, a sponsor may expect to see its logo on team gear at all times. This may be broader than the team anticipated, who solely wanted the items’ usage to be while the players are streaming. A clearly defined provision would eliminate any confusion amongst the parties and provide a solid foundation for the sponsorship by eliminating any unknown intentions.
Payment terms are also of critical concern in evaluating a sponsorship agreement. Unfortunately, failed sponsorship payments are routine within the esports industry, and oftentimes create further issues for the sponsored party. For instance, if a team doesn’t get its sponsorship payment on time, it may have trouble paying its players’ salaries. At its most base level, payment provisions are what the sponsored entity or person receives in exchange for the sponsored promotion. Of course, the sponsorship agreement should specify the amount to be paid (or the specifics as to how a variable amount is determined) and when the amount will be paid. However, the payment terms of the agreement can also be used to incentivize proper payment. Savvy negotiators will seek to add penalties, termination rights, or other things that would disincentivize late/failed payments. In the event that payment is late or does not occur, these additions would provide you with greater flexibility to offset some of the impact incurred.
When it comes to sponsorship agreements, clarity and precision are key. This is especially true when defining each party’s expectations and obligations with respect to each other, including payment terms.
In our next post, we’ll discuss exclusivity rights and some of the considerations involved by both parties.
What is one thing that all eSports players, teams, and organizations have in common? Their need for sponsorships. But once a sponsor is interested in a sponsorship opportunity, which may be difficult to achieve, a sponsorship agreement must be carefully drafted that identifies the terms of the sponsorship. This can be tricky if you have never drafted and negotiated such an agreement before. Below are 10 important elements to every eSports sponsorship agreement. This list is not meant to be all inclusive, but is an introduction to the bulk of the provisions which should be included in a sponsorship agreement.
1. Identify the parties
For clarity, identify the parties right away in the contract. That includes both the Sponsor and Sponsee (the organization/team being sponsored) and their respective addresses.
2. Length of Agreement
How long is the sponsorship agreement to last for? If the sponsorship is for an event, you want to make sure that the term of the agreement lasts through the expected duration of the event, and perhaps also leaving some additional days for timely rescheduling.
3. Identify what is being sponsored
Is this an event sponsorship? A team sponsorship? Whatever the case may be, you want to specify what is being sponsored. If you’re a team, then briefly discuss the team, what you play, and maybe even some recent accomplishments to remind the Sponsor why they want to align with your brand. If you are putting on an event, then discuss the details of the event (i.e. if it’s a tournament, how it’s structured), and how it is broadcasted (if at all).
4. Sponsor Responsibilities
This is where sponsorship agreements begin to get tricky. In this portion, you want to clearly define what the Sponsor’s responsibilities are. If the Sponsor is providing money, as many do, then specify how much, and the dates by which payment must be made.
If the Sponsor is providing products, defining the Sponsor’s responsibilities can be difficult. The Team would want this clause to be as broad as possible, allowing it greater access to products (in terms of amount or frequency). However, the Sponsor would want this clause to be narrow and tightly defined in order to limit its obligations to the team. Like with the cash sponsorships, time frames should be established when the products are to be provided. If the sponsorship is for a period of time where it would be expected that multiple rounds of products would be provided to the team, then it should also be defined how additional product requests will be made and handled. This contentious point must be negotiated thoroughly.
5. Team/Organization Responsibilities
Conversely, the Sponsee’s responsibilities must be defined. Effectively, this section describes what the team or organization will be offering the Sponsor in exchange for the sponsorship. It can also be used to retain some exclusive rights (i.e. control over certain aspects of a tournament). The team or organization would want this provision to be drafted as narrowly as possible, to limit their exposure and obligations to the Sponsor, while Sponsors could seek to broaden this provision.
This provision is especially important, as it defines the exclusivity, or lack thereof, of a Sponsor. Teams and organizations obviously want to have more than one sponsor, so exclusivity provisions must be carefully drafted. Sponsees should seek to categorize the sponsorship narrowly, that way it can offer exclusive sponsorships in many categories. However, sponsors may seek to broaden any category they feel is too narrow. For example, a team would want to categorize a prospective soda sponsorship as an exclusive soft drink sponsorship, specifically excluding energy drinks (as there are some soda alternatives to energy drinks). This would allow the team to offer exclusive sponsorships for soft drinks and energy drinks, respectively, thus potentially increasing its sponsorship dollars.
7. Sponsor’s promotional entitlement
This section describes what promotions the Sponsor is entitled to in exchange for their sponsorship. This section can be drafted broadly or narrowly, depending upon the specifics the Sponsor requires. Some examples of narrow provisions are specifying the size of the Sponsor’s name and logo that will be used on a stream, how often the stream’s casters mention the Sponsor, and the specifics of website promotion (banner size, placement, etc.). An example of a broad provision would be limited social media promotion at the discretion of the Sponsee.
8. Intellectual Property
Promotion of the Sponsor necessarily entails that intellectual property will be used, including the Sponsor’s name, and possibly logos. It is necessary to include a provision stating that the Sponsee can use such intellectual property to further the goals of the sponsorship agreement. Also worth including is a provision allowing for the limited use of the Sponsor’s intellectual property in the future, as it pertains to recordings or repackagings of the event or team during the sponsorship term. This gives Sponsees the flexibility to use old content without having to blur any names or logos.
9. Cancellation provisions
These provisions are extremely important, as they define when the Sponsor and Sponsee may cancel the agreement. Such provisions are very context dependent, and as a result, vary from contract to contract. One such example would be the cancellation of a sponsorship if a certain number of teams withdraw from the event being organized by a Sponsee.
10. Miscellaneous provisions
Several miscellaneous provisions should be added to the end of the contract, including, but not limited to, choice of law, arbitration, indeminity, waivers of liability, warranties, notice, and severability.
Drafting sponsorship agreements is no easy task, but the above should serve as a basic intro guide to drafting the meat of the agreement. It is important to remember that the strength of any contractual relationship is equal to the strength of the contract itself. If you need any assistance drafting or negotiating sponsorship agreements, contact me at Roger@RRQlaw.com or (917) 477-7942.
Last week, I discussed why professional gaming teams should become businesses in order to secure sponsorships. With the staggering growth of eSports, online viewing of eSports competitions totaling 2.2 billion hours, and a dedicated gaming arena opening in Ohio, professional gaming is quickly becoming its own segment of the sports and entertainment industry. Although professional eSports teams may lack a traditional front office, there is room for a business adviser who secures sponsorships and other business opportunities for teams.
This business adviser would serve in a similar capacity to a sports agent for the team. Traditionally, sports agents represent individual professional athletes in negotiating their on-field contracts and securing endorsement agreements. However, as professional gaming is a tournament based league without individualized salaries, salary negotiation services and individual representation would be irrelevant.
Instead, a professional gaming sports agent would focus on sponsorships and other business opportunities for the team. An effective agent could leverage a team's substantial online presence (Twitter followers, YouTube subscribers, Twitch followers, etc.) to sponsors in return for sponsorships to provide products and financial support for the team. Such a tactic is not new for agents, as they have leveraged online followings for professional athletes and then-amateur athletes (see here) into sponsorships. Utilizing an agent would be in the best interest of eSports teams, as it leaves the players to focus on their sport while the agent secures much needed sponsorships to help get the team to additional tournaments.
The question then arises as to how agents would be paid. Normally, sports agents take a percentage of their players' salaries that they negotiated (generally 3-5%) and a higher percentage of any endorsements they secure (15-20%). However, that preexisting model does not fit professional gaming because players, or even teams, are not paid a salary. Additionally, many professional gaming sponsorships supply products, and not cash, which would be impossible to take a percentage of. Instead, agents would likely seek a percentage of tournament winnings in exchange for their services, as well as a percentage of any sponsorship money secured for the team.
Due to an agent's necessary reliance on tournament winnings and substantial online followings to be paid, teams that have yet to make a name for themselves in professional gaming may find it difficult to find an agent to represent them. It is important to remember, in both professional sports and e-sports, that agents do not establish a brand, but leverage an existing brand and shape it. An agent needs a foundation to leverage, and only the team itself can create that foundation.
Given the increase in popularity of eSports, and the money that is starting to flow through the industry, there is rising potential for a budding agent role for teams.
In the past few years, e-sports (playing video games competitively for profit) has seen staggering growth in the United States. This growth has largely been fueled by the development of a professional tournament association, the inclusion of e-sports in the X Games competitions, and at its core, technology which allows players to connect and compete in ways never previously possible.
Viewership of the e-sports tournaments is also extremely high. Last year, online viewers watched a total of 2.4 billion hours of competition footage. Live events have also sold well, prompting Major League Gaming (the preeminent e-sports tournament body) to establish an arena in Columbus, Ohio. As with the rapid rise of any industry segment, e-sports tournaments have received sponsorships from well-known brands such Coca Cola and American Express. Although the tournaments and their governing bodies have received substantial sponsorship income, teams have not had the same financial success.
Many teams are able to secure small sponsorships which supply products such as controllers and apparel. However, there is a lack of sponsorship dollars supplied to the teams, which may be what is needed most as the expenses of professional gaming can be high. One of the reasons that teams have difficulty securing sponsorships is due to their business organization, or rather the lack thereof.
For e-sports to develop into a true professional league, and for teams to see the sponsorship dollars they desire, teams will have to learn from the businesses of their MLB, NFL and NBA counterparts. Firstly, professional sports teams are business entities, not just a group of people who are acting together. This is extremely important because State law differs as to whether unincorporated associations can enter into contracts, and as to the rights of these associations as a whole. Further, choosing a business entity for the team simplifies the sponsorship process for the brand as it eliminates any question regarding whether the contract is enforceable.
The choice of what business entity to select is a trickier subject, and would have to be determined on a team by team basis. At this early stage of professional gaming, there is no "one size fits all" approach. Professional sports teams have Owners and front offices that handle the business end of the team while the players play. However, that wouldn't be the case at this stage of e-sports. Simply put, the players will also have to handle their team's business. That can become problematic in several situations, especially when team members are minors. Minors' business activities are restricted by State and Federal law, but State law may allow for some creative business-formation possibilities if there are team members over 18 who can start the business. For instance, some states allow minors to be shareholders in a business. Any team considering turning their team into a business should consult an attorney before doing so.
There are a myriad of reasons teams don't receive the sponsorships they desire, including the lack of a formalized business structure. If your team wants to be treated as a legitimate business, make sure your team is actually a business first.
There has been an interesting trend in recent years of technology being developed for athletes. From simple pedometers, shoes that track your speed and distance, to equipment that monitors how you strike a ball, tech for athletes is becoming increasingly popular and mainstream.
Perhaps you've seen the new Apple commercial below which has been airing frequently during the World Cup:
What would a tech trend be without Apple's involvement? This video shows off several examples of how tech is integrating with athletes to help them hone their abilities. More importantly, the ad doesn't use any professional athletes, which highlights the wide reach of this tech trend.
I admit, I love my Nike Fuelband. It loosely keeps track of my movement throughout the day to lets me know if I've been sitting at my desk for too long and need to hit the heavybag. And although I like to box, I'm not training to be heavyweight champion of the world. That's why this story caught my eye.
A tennis racket has now been developed by Babolat which transfers to an app the strength of the racket's impact on the ball, the spin, and also counts the number of forehands, backhands, serves and overhands. More importantly, this racket was recently used by Julia Gorges during the French Open.
The tennis player, currently ranked 107th in the world, stated in the article that she is using the new racket because "sometimes you are in the emotions...and you sometimes lose the vision [to see] things." She is hopeful that her new tech will allow her to analyze and improve her game, and ultimately, her ranking.
This kind of tech is exciting, as its entire purpose is to develop its users' abilities. It is easy to see that widespread accessibility to this 'athletic development' tech can potentially increase the level of competition in a sport. Athletes are continuously looking for an edge over their competition, and similar tech can help them achieve that. On the developer side, tech for athletes can be utilized by a large market, and opens up the possibility of high-profile endorsement with multiple methods of activation. Athlete tech is here to stay, and some of the companies involved in its development could find the area particularly lucrative.
Companies developing tech for athletes could engage professional athletes for endorsement opportunities, as Babolat has with Gorges. Such endorsement frequently occurs with products manufactured for athletes' use. For example, Major League Baseball players generally have endorsement agreements with their bat manufacturers. These professional athlete endorsements can have a marketing trickle-down effect to the athletes' fans.
Athlete tech can allow professional athletes to engage with consumers in new ways. For instance, Babolat's app that works in conjunction with the smart-racket could have a leaderboard for hardest swing or most revolutions on a ball. Or, even a way for people to send challenges or encouragement to one another, utilizing the racket's measurables.
However, the more professional athlete involvement with the tech desired, the tighter the contract must be. Some things to consider include:
Of course, any time a company utilizes athlete endorsements, the contract should also have a broad morals clause for all the reasons outlined here.
There have been many exciting developments in tech for athletes, and I expect the trend to continue. Businesses in this niche industry could find professional athlete endorsements lucrative, but they must be specific in drafting such agreements.
Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times and an Olympic bronze medal during his career. This success brought him fame and substantial sponsorships. However, as evidence mounted that Armstrong used illicit substances to better his performance, sponsors quickly disassociated themselves by likely utilizing a morals clause in the sponsorship contract.
As in the case of Lance Armstrong, morals clauses allow a brand or business the ability to cancel a sponsorship with the athlete/celebrity should they act in a way that damages their own brand substantially enough to hurt the sponsoring business or brand's reputation.
Importantly, morals clauses are not reserved for the elite sponsors. Morals clauses can also be found in TV show contracts, teachers' contracts, and appearance contracts.
Oftentimes, sports businesses schedule athlete appearances to boost their brands and bring in consumers. Regardless of the size of the sports business, a morals clause should not be overlooked in the appearance contract. In today's hyper-connected society, all it takes to start a controversy is a singe Tweet, which probably takes less than a minute to create and send. No business, especially a small business, wants to be stuck with an appearance by a controversial athlete amidst a scandal for fear that the business would be associated with the athlete.
One of the topics heavily discussed at last week's Sports Lawyers Association Annual Conference was ambush marketing. In case you are unaware, ambush marketing is a strategy where a brand associates themselves with an event or persons to capitalize on their fame without paying sponsorship fees. Take a look at this ad by Nike that was released around the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England:
Nike was not a sponsor of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England, yet cleverly utilized the public's knowledge of the games by showing sports being played in towns also called London in the United States, Norway, Jamaica, and Nigeria. Additionally the voice-over about greatness certainly conjures the image of the Olympic athlete. This ad was used as part of a larger campaign, with the ad appearing on the homepage of Youtube for a day, as well as engaging users on Twitter with the hashtag at the end of the video. Cleverly, the ad relies upon the viewer to make the association between the images, Nike's brand, and the knowledge that the Olympics were taking place in London.
Most important is what Nike does not do in this ad. Nike never shows London, England, the Olympic rings, or even says the words Olympics or games. In other words, Nike did not use any protected intellectual property associated with the Summer Olympics in London, England. Doing so would have left Nike on the wrong end of an extremely costly infringement lawsuit.
So what can businesses learn from this Nike commercial about ambush marketing?
Quiles Law is an esports and sports law firm based in New York City.
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Attorney Advertising. The information presented in this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor is it intended to form any attorney/client relationship. Our attorneys, collectively, are licensed to practice law in the States of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Copyright Roger R. Quiles, Esq., 2019. All rights reserved.