In today’s world, football transcends the confines of the field to become a global commercial phenomenon. Football enthusiasts are not merely spectators; they have evolved into consumers, supporting their cherished teams by purchasing merchandise associated with their favourite players, endorsing brands endorsed by these players, and even engaging in video games like FIFA by EA Sports.
The image of these players warrants legal protection, encompassing various aspects of their lives, both private and professional, including their skills, daily activities, and careers. Their image is an integral part of their influence, necessitating safeguarding through legal regulations and contractual obligations.
In the legal case of Proactive Sports Management Ltd v Rooney and others  EWHC 1807 (QB), image rights of football players were defined as follows: “the right for any commercial orpromotional purpose to use the Player’s name, nickname, slogan, and signatures developed from time to time, image, likeness, voice, logos, get-ups, initials, team or squad number, reputation, video or film portrayal, biographical information, graphical representation, electronic, animated or computer-generated representation and/or any other representation and/or right of association and/or any other right or quasi-right anywhere in the World of the Player in relation to his name, reputation, image, promotional services, and/or his performance together with the right to apply for registration of any such rights.” An image right empowers the owner to oversee, license, and capitalize on all personality attributes associated with their image, including their name, nicknames, caricatures, likeness, image, photograph, signature, initials, physical traits, and voice.
Nevertheless, the extent of a football player’s image rights may differ from one country to another since these rights are not regulated by sports law but are instead governed by contractual agreements between the player and other parties. The specifics of these image contracts are typically outlined in the player’s contract with their respective club. For instance, when a player enters into a contract with a club, the club often secures certain image rights from the player for marketing purposes, with the player granting consent for the club to utilize these rights as part of its marketing strategy. Furthermore, if the player represents their national association, the association may also acquire specific image rights for the player (Auberg,2020).
In specific leagues such as the English Premier League (EPL), there exists a contractual arrangement between players and the league to obtain image rights. This arrangement is commonly referred to as the “image contract.” The image contract involves the player transferring their right to exploit their image or reputation for both football-related and nonfootball-related activities to a third party, known as the “transferee.” The intricacies of the image contract are articulated in the player’s contract with their respective club, which they are contractually bound to adhere to. Through these contracts, clubs are granted the ability to promote their team, its activities, brand, and any football-associated products or services by utilizing the player’s image.
However, implying any form of brand or product endorsement by using the player’s image is strictly prohibited. Additionally, players are obligated, through agreements between the leagues and the Professional Footballers Association, to accommodate reasonable requests made on behalf of the league for the use of their image. These agreements empower the league to fulfil its obligations under various commercial contracts, UK broadcasting contracts, overseas broadcasting contracts, radio contracts, and title sponsorship contracts (Becker,2013).
A footballer’s image rights can be acquired by third parties through leagues, teams, individual players, or FIFPRO. For instance, EA Sports has obtained licenses directly from leagues, clubs, and individual players, granting them the contractual right to include the likeness of all players featured in FIFA. EA Sports secured these rights through agreements with teams and an exclusive agreement with the Premier League, which dates back several years. However, it’s essential to note that EA Sports cannot acquire image rights from clubs, leagues,or FIFPRO if these entities have not already secured image rights pertaining to the names and likenesses of the players.
In Malaysia, the Professional Footballers Association of Malaysia (PFAM) plays a pivotal role in ensuring the protection and promotion of the image rights of our nation’s football players. PFAM is not just an advocate for the welfare and rights of our players on the pitch but also a staunch guardian of their off-field interests. Through collaborative efforts with players, clubs, and other stakeholders, PFAM actively negotiates and oversees contractual arrangements that involve image rights, aligning them with international best practices.
This includes facilitating agreements between players and clubs that strike a balance between promoting the sport and preserving the individuality of our players. PFAM’s dedication to safeguarding the image rights of our football stars contributes significantly to the growth of the sport in Malaysia, allowing players to thrive both professionally and commercially.
Auberg, E. (2022, December 11). EA Sports and players’ image rights in “FIFA.” EA Sports Law. Retrieved March 6, 2023, from https://www.easportslaw.com/news/easports-image-rights-fifa
Becker, R. (2013, April 9). Contractual relations in the NFL, Premier League & MLS: A comparison – part 2. LawInSport. Retrieved March 6, 2023, from https://www.lawinsport.com/topics/contract-law/item/contractual-relations-in-the-nflpremier-league-mls-a-comparison-part-2